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MALCOLM MUGGERI DGE 




of Wasted Time 



An Autobiography 



One of the great memoirs of our time 
— Paul Johnson, New York Times Book Review 






Chronicles 
of Wasted Time 



THE MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE SOCIETY 



The Malcolm Muggeridge Society was founded on the 100th 
anniversary of the birth of Malcolm Muggeridge and some thirteen 
years after his death. This coincided with a successful two-day seminar 
entitled ‘Muggeridge Rediscovered’ held at Wheaton College, Illinois 
in May 2003, bringing together people from many parts of the world 
with an interest in the work of Malcolm Muggeridge - his life and 
his times. 

The aims of the Society can be summarised as follows: 

• Providing information for those researching the life and work of 
Malcolm Muggeridge 

• Keeping writings in print and to encourage the publication of 
new critiques and scholarship 

• Providing fellowship and virtual forum for admirers to discuss 
Muggeridge’s work 

• Publishing a regular newsletter 

• Facilitating republication of his books and publication of 
unpublished material 

• Providing linkage with other societies where mutual interest 
exists 

• Increasing awareness of papers, writings and other memorabilia 
held in Special Collections at Wheaton College, Illinois 

• Developing a web presence 

• Organising social, dramatic and literary events 

• Encouraging new writing about Muggeridge 

In preserving and utilising the literary and broadcast legacy, the 
Society provides a focus for those wishing to learn more about this 
famous author, journalist, soldier-spy, broadcaster, and Christian 
apologist. The Society publishes a quarterly literary journal called 
The Gargoyle, distributed to members. 



www.malcolmmuggeridge.org 



Chronicles 
of Wasted Time 

MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE 



FOREWORD BY IAN HUNTER 



REGENT COLLEGE PUBLISHING 

• VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA • 



For my ever-dear children: 
Leonard, John and Valentine , 
And the other three that have 
come to us through them: 
Sylvia, Anne and Gerrit-Jan 



Copyright 1972, 1973, 2006 Estate of Malcolm Muggeridge 
All rights reserved. 

Chronicles of Wasted Time was originally published in two volumes: 

Chronicle I: The Green Stick 
Chronicle II: The Infernal Grove 

This edition, including Chronicle III, published 2006 by 
Regent College Publishing 

5800 University Blvd., Vancouver, BC V6T 2E4 Canada 

Views expressed in works published by Regent College Publishing are those 
of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of Regent 
College <www.regent-college.edu>. 

Cover portrait by Michael Noakes 

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication 

Muggeridge, Malcolm, 1903-1990. 

Chronicles of wasted time / Malcolm Muggeridge. 

Includes index. 

Some material previously published under the titles The Green Stick, and 
The Infernal Grove. 

Includes the previously unpublished The Right Eye. 

ISBN 1-57383-376-2 

1. Muggeridge, Malcolm, 1903-1990. 2. Authors, English — 20th 
century — Biography. 3. Journalists — Great Britain Biography. I. Muggeridge, 
Malcolm, 1903-1990. Green stick. II. Muggeridge, Malcolm, 1903-1990. 
Infernal grove. III. Muggeridge, Malcolm, 1903-1990. Right eye. IV. Title. 



PR6025.U5Z463 2006 



070.92 



C2006-903785-X 



Contents 

Foreword by Ian Hunter 1 

Chronicle I: The Green Stick 

1. A Part in Search of a Play 11 

2. A Socialist Upbringing 23 

3. Twilight of Empire 92 

4. The Pursuit of Righteousness 131 

5. Who Whom? 205 

Chronicle II: The Infernal Grove 277 

6. The Iron Gates 281 

7. Grinning Honour 346 

8. On Secret Service 346 

9. The Victor’s Camp 461 

Chronicle III: The Right Eye 547 

Index 557 



Foreword 



the re-issuance of Malcolm Muggeridge’s autobiography, Chronicles 
of Wasted Time, including, for the first time, the fragment with 
which he intended to begin his oft-contemplated third volume, will 
be welcomed by readers familiar with the compulsively-readable 
Muggeridge and, one hopes, will serve to introduce a new generation 
to a journalist and author whose life spanned the 20th century and 
who chronicled its turbulent ups and downs in matchless prose. 

Volume I, The Green Stick - the title drawn from a saying of Leo 
Tolstoy’s that somewhere there was buried a green stick inscribed with 
words that would destroy evil in the hearts of men and bring them 
happiness - was first published by William Collins in 1972. The Sunday 
Times hailed it as \ . . one of the greatest autobiographies of our time.’ 
Volume II, The Infernal Grove, a chastened title taken from William 
Blake’s ‘Songs of Experience’, appeared a year later (1973). 

These two volumes carry Muggeridge’s life story only to the end 
of the second World War. For the next two decades, autobiographical 
silence. So much of Muggeridge’s career, including his dominance of 
the early years of BBC television, lay ahead; so why no third volume? 

In part, it may have been due to mental exhaustion; Muggeridge 
was nearly 70 when he completed The Infernal Grove. In part, it was 
because many of the people who would populate his third volume 
were still alive, sensitive to criticism, and not beyond a threat of libel. 
Malcolm told me once that he could never write about his once close 
friendship with novelist Anthony Powell as long as Powell was alive; 
as it happened Powell was to outlive Muggeridge by a decade. Then, 
too, it is clear that Malcolm wanted to switch the tone and substance 
of his memoirs; from events to their significance, from the ways of the 
world to his vision of God. Indeed, his highly autobiographical 1969 
bestseller, Jesus Rediscovered, had already begun the process. 



2 Foreword 



In the last years of his life, writing was simply beyond him. 
Muggeridge’s eyesight failed and his memory, once so acute, began 
to fail. The spirit may have been willing but the flesh was weak. 
So the fragmentary, rather tentative opening of The Right Eye - a 
title intended to remind us that while the left eye sees only time 
and man, the right eye sees eternity - is all we shall have. What 
is most remarkable is that Malcolm’s prophetic instincts never left 
him. In my last visit to him, a couple of years before his death in 
1990, he was still following world events and very shrewd about 
their direction and eventual outcome. If Muggeridge was sometimes 
mocked and seldom heeded - well, that is the fate of prophets, as 
Jeremiah discovered when, for his insights, he got himself chucked 
down a well. Prophets unsettle our preconceptions and disturb our 
complacency. Muggeridge never claimed to be a prophet. When 
others, like Cardinal Manning of Los Angeles, applied that label to 
him, he demurred: ‘I am no prophet, no, nor prophet’s son’, he said, 
then adapting Amos; ‘I was a journalist and the Lord took me as I sat 
at my typewriter.’ Yet no perceptive reader of the ensuing pages will 
fail to be struck by Muggeridge’s prophetic genius. 

His instincts were on display in the winter months of 1932-33 
when he served as stand-in correspondent for the Manchester Guardian 
in Moscow. He did a daring thing: he had his Russian interpreter 
buy him a railway ticket to the Ukraine and North Caucasus. What 
Muggeridge saw on that extended rail trip he never forgot; years later 
he wrote that it ‘remained in my mind as a nightmare memory.’ And 
he did his best to make sure the world did not forget. 

He saw the richest wheat lands of Europe turned into a wilderness. 
He saw famine - ‘planned and deliberate; not due to any natural 
catastrophe like failure ofrain or cyclone or flooding. An administrative 
famine brought about by the forced collectivization of agriculture 
. . . abandoned villages, the absence of livestock, neglected fields: 
everywhere, famished, frightened people.’ 

In a German settlement, a little oasis of prosperity in the collec- 
tivized wilderness, he saw peasants kneeling down in the snow, 
weeping, and asking for bread. In his diary he wrote: “Whatever else 
I may do or think in the future, I must never pretend that I haven’t 
seen this. Ideas will come and go; but this is more than an idea. It is 
peasants kneeling down in the snow and asking for bread. Something 
that I have seen and understood.’ 



Fore word 3 

In a series of articles, Muggeridge wrote of what he had seen; 
on February 26, 1933: \ . . to say there is a famine in some of the 
most fertile parts of Russia is to say much less than the truth; there 
is not only famine . . . but a state of war, a military occupation 
... the grain collection has been carried out with such thoroughness 
and brutality that the peasants are now quite without bread.’ The 
next month he wrote a three part series tracing how the ‘Dicta- 
torship of the Proletariat’ had become the Dictatorship of Joseph 
Stalin; then how the Dictatorship of Stalin became the ‘Dictatorship 
of the General Idea’. 

His reporting produced a chorus of denunciation. The policy of 
the British government, and the inclination of the chattering classes, 
was wholehearted support for what was then called ‘the Soviet 
experiment’. Muggeridge was denounced as ‘an hysterical liar’ by 
such eminent personages as the Very Rev. Hewlett Johnson, Dean 
of Canterbury, who, from his pulpit had praised Stalin’s ‘. . . steady 
purpose and kindly generosity’; by Harold Laski, who assured all who 
would listen that the show trials of the Old Bolsheviks were models of 
judicial fairness. George Bernard Shaw, who had just returned from 
a visit to Russia, contradicted Muggeridge ’s accounts of famine by 
describing granaries full to overflowing, attended by apple-cheeked 
granary maids. Even Malcolm’s aunt by marriage, Beatrice Webb, 
joined the chorus, repudiating Muggeridge’s assertion that forced 
labour existed in the Soviet Union; though when pressed in private 
conversation, she did acknowledge, almost wistfully Malcolm noted, 
‘In Russia, people disappear.’ 

Within Russia, Muggeridge’s reporting was contradicted pre- 
eminently by Walter Duranty, Moscow correspondent for the New 
York Times, a man whom Muggeridge later called ‘the greatest liar I 
have ever met’ - a reporter who nonetheless was awarded a Pulitzer 
Prize for journalism. 

If vindication was a long time coming, it came when Susan Taylor, 
in her 1990 biography of Duranty, Stalin's Apologist (Oxford University 
Press), wrote this: ‘But for Muggeridge’s eyewitness accounts of 
the famine in the spring of 1933 and his stubborn chronicle of the 
event, the effects of the crime upon those who suffered it might well 
have remained as hidden from scrutiny as its perpetrators intended. 
Little thanks he has received for it over the years, although there is 
a growing number who realize what a singular act of honesty and 



4 Foreword 

courage his reportage constituted.’ Alas, by the time Susan Taylor 
wrote that, Muggeridge was dead. 

Vindication came again from Alexander Solzhenitsyn; when Joseph 
Pearce interviewed Solzhenitsyn for his biography ( Solzhenitsyn : a Soul 
in Exile, Baker Books, 2001) Solzhenitsyn commended Muggeridge 
as \ . . a man able to travel that difficult path of freeing himself from 
socialist lies and attaining spiritual heights.’ 

It was Malcolm’s Russian experience that first prompted a re- 
evaluation of Christianity. As Muggeridge put it four decades later: 
‘My disillusionment with the notion of a predestined progress towards 
a kingdom of heaven on earth led me inexorably back to the kingdom 
not of this world proclaimed in the Christian revelation.’ 

Malcolm made a prophetic remark to me in 1978 when I happened 
to be staying with him at the time a conclave in Rome chose Karol 
Wojtyla to become Pope John Paul II. ‘It is the end of the Soviet 
Union/ Muggeridge said, ‘they will not be able to withstand the 
moral authority of a Pope from the Communist bloc.’ Another 
prophecy that he did not live to see fully vindicated. 

Nothing in Muggeridge ’s controversial journalistic career ever 
rivaled his ‘Royal Soap Opera’ article that appeared in the Saturday 
Evening Post on October 19, 1957. His theme was that materialist 
societies like ours are especially prone to hero-worship; having by 
and large ceased to believe in God, they pay increasing obeisance to a 
Queen or Royal family, making of a symbol (‘no bad thing in itself’) 
a kind of substitute or ersatz religion. 

The Queen happened to be touring America when the article 
appeared (it had been written nearly two years before) and the 
British press smelled blood. Muggeridge’s article was described as 
\ . . treasonous . . . ruthless . . . shocking . . . patronizing . . . gruesome’ 
to quote only a few epithets. Muggeridge received death threats 
and his home was vandalized. As he walked along the seafront in 
Brighton, a passer-by spat in his face. He was banned from the BBC, 
and his newspaper column dropped. 

We who have lived to watch the authority of the Monarchy reduced 
to a ribald joke - soap opera indeed - can but marvel at Muggeridge’s 
prescience and courage. If even he could not have imagined a 
character quite so ludicrous as Princess Di, he could nevertheless say, 
paraphrasing Kipling, ‘I saw the sunset ere most men saw the dawn.’ 
In the 1960s and 70s Muggeridge operated as a sort-of freelance 



Foreword 5 



world correspondent; as he put it, he had taken up the hazards of 
street-walking in preference to the security of being an inmate of a 
licensed house. He wrote for papers and magazines in the U.K., the 
U.S., Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. His television programs were 
broadcast through the English-speaking world. Even to summarize 
his utterances in this hectic period is to shortchange his prophetic 
gifts. Nevertheless, here, without comment, are a few delicious 
Mugger idgisms: 

In our time the genius of man has gone into science, where it 
has achieved the most astounding results - far, far greater in 
my lifetime than in the whole of the rest of recorded time. In 
literature and the arts, in mysticism and religion, nothing has 
been done that will be of any major interest to posterity, and a 
good deal that will invite derision and even contempt. (1967) 

The twentieth century’s version of Descartes’ famous dictum is, 

‘I screw, therefore I am.’ (1969) 

Man is a fugitive from reality who must somehow be persuaded 
to confront his own imperfection and despair (1976) 

The State, in fact, is the greatest of all tyrants, the ultimate 
tyrant. Kings can be executed, oligarchies can be broken up, 
millionaires can be despoiled of their money, Popes can be 
defied and heresies persisted in, but the State is, in principle, 
ourselves, and how can we put down ourselves? We who are the 
Leviathan cannot slay it. (1954) 

The most highly educated society in Western Europe elected 
Hitler and the highest density of Universities per acre and per 
person is to be found in California. Need I say more? (1978) 

A key to our present discontents is simply that the burden of 
being free has come to seem to heavy to be borne, and that, 
consciously or unconsciously, willfully or under duress, the 
prevailing disposition is to lay it down. In a famous scene in 
Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov , the Chief Inquisitor 
turns away the returned Christ because he brings with him 
the dreaded gift of freedom. Governments, as it seems to me, 
whatever their ideology, are going to show themselves of a like 
mind with the Grand Inquisitor. (1978) 



6 Foreword 

When Pope John Paul 11 issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae in 
1978, Muggeridge wrote a supportive letter to The Times: ‘I do not 
doubt that in the history books, when our squalid moral decline 
is recounted, with the final breakdown in law and order that must 
follow (for without a moral order, there can be no order) the Pope’s 
courageous and just, though I fear in the event largely ineffectual, 
stand will be accorded the respect and admiration it deserves.’ 

Four years after he wrote this, Muggeridge was received into the 
Roman Catholic church. 

Death was a topic about which Malcolm frequently thought and 
wrote. At the age of 76, he wrote: ‘Like a prisoner awaiting his 
release, like a schoolboy when the end of term is near, like a migrant 
bird ready to fly south ... I long to be gone. Extricating myself from 
the flesh I have too long inhabited, hearing the key turn in the lock of 
time so that the great doors of eternity swing open, disengaging my 
tired mind from its interminable conundrums, and my tired ego from 
its wearisome insistencies. Such is the prospect of death.’ 

Alas, Malcolm’s death was not to be the easeful passage from time 
to eternity that he had hoped for; at the end his mind disintegrated, 
he grew suspicious and quarrelsome, at the last he was confined to a 
nursing home. 

He died on November 14, 1990 at the age of 87. He was buried in 
the village cemetery at Whatlington in Sussex and on his gravestone 
was incised the epitaph valiant for truth. It is an apt inscription; 
Malcolm Muggeridge had earned the right to echo the words of 
Bunyan’s Mr. Valiant-For-Truth: 

Though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not 
repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive at where I am. 

My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, 
and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and 
scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought 
his battles who will now be my rewarder. And so he passed over, 
and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side. 



Dr. Ian Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at the University of 
Western Ontario; he is the author of the first biography of Malcolm Muggeridge 
[ Malcolm Muggeridge, A Life], and editor of two Muggeridge anthologies: Things 
Past (1978) and The Very Best of Malcolm Muggeridge (1998). 



long ago I copied out from a Life of the French sculptor, 
Rodin, a letter he addressed to his wife, Rose, dated 24 
August, 1913. It occurs to me now that in it he says to her 
exactly what I should wish to say to my wife, Kitty, and that 
there could be no better place for saying it than here. So, 
transposing the names' 

My dear Kitty, 

This letter is just to tell you that my mind is full of the 
greatness of God’s gift to me when He put you at my 
side. Keep this thought of mine in your generous heart. 

Your, 

M. 



Chronicle I 



THE 

GREEN 

STICK 



I used to believe that there was a green stick, buried on the 
edge of a ravine in the old Zakaz forest at Yasnaya Polyana, 
on which words were carved that would destroy all the evil 
in the hearts of men and bring them everything good. 

— Leo Tolstoy 



i A Part in Search of a Play 



Nous ne vivons jamais, mais nous esp£rons de vivre; et, nous dis- 
posant toujours & etre heureux, il est inevitable que nous le soyons 
jamais. 

-Pascal 

we communicators -vendors of words, to use St Augustine’s ex- 
pression - tend to accumulate a lot of waste matter as we go along. I 
mean press-cuttings, maybe pasted up in books, or just stuffed into 
envelopes; old letters, whether of personal significance, recording some 
moment of ostensible drama in one’s life, or from unknown corres- 
pondents, flattering or abusive (television appearances bring in sackfuls 
of these), in both cases ministering to one’s self-esteem. Books once 
considered to be of special interest, or just review copies for some reason 
unsold to the knackers; for that matter, one’s own books, still standing 
in tattered dust-jackets on one’s shelves. Photographs, souvenirs, 
presentations, certificates; even - a mania of my own - all the different 
passes, laissez-passers, visas and other such documents needed to make 
one’s way about this increasingly obstructed world. The rags and 
tatters of a professionally exhibitionist ego. After half a century in the 
business, I have a mountain of such junk. 

The fact that I have allowed these, what the French police call 
pieces justificatives, to accumulate at all, indicates, I suppose, that I 
attach a certain value to them, and have an intention some day to sort 
them out and arrange them chronologically with a view to their preser- 
vation, maybe at some American university, grateful for any pabulum 
to fill its air-conditioned, dust-and-damp-proof vaults. I doubt, though, 
whether I shall ever bring myself to undertake the task. The odds are I 
shall die with it still undone, and I see no reason why anyone else should 
bother with it Unless my beloved Kitty, if she outlives me (as I pray 
she may, rather than leaving me, desolate, behind), were for love of me 
to cherish them, staple or sew them together, and stow them away in 



12 The Green Stick 

boxes in her neat, methodical way. Then perhaps one of my children or 
grandchildren might subsequently have a look at them. Or flog them 
for what they would fetch - which would not, I fear, be much; apart 
from an occasional signature or letter from someone distinguished 
enough to be considered worthy of ‘collecting* in the saleroom sense. 
My years of journalism have, in any case, inculcated in me a strong and, 
as I consider, on the whole salutory resistance to re-reading or re- 
considering anything done earlier than yesterday. With a few special 
exceptions, I have had no wish to renew acquaintance with my past 
writings, whether published or unpublished. Even when they have been 
re-issued, I have not cared to revise them, or, if the truth be told, read 
them. That mysterious saying Let the dead bury their dead applies, as 
far as I am concerned, with particular force to words, which exist like 
insects in the tropics, buzzing briefly round a hurricane lamp and then 
piling up in dead heaps on the ground. 

Nonetheless, from the very beginning of my life I never doubted that 
words were my mitier. There was nothing else I ever wanted to do 
except use them; no other accomplishment or achievement I ever had 
the slightest regard for, or desire to emulate. I have always loved words, 
and still love them, for their own sake. For the power and beauty of 
them; for the wonderful things that can be done with them. I had a 
memorable example of this once when I was in Darwin, Australia. A 
message came to me that a man in hospital there had expressed a wish 
to see me. It seemed he had heard something I said on the radio that 
had taken his fancy. So I went along. He turned out to be a wizened 
old fellow who had spent much of his life in the bush, and now was 
obviously soon going to die. Also, he was quite blind. At first, I just 
couldn’t think of anything to say and felt the silent reproach of his dead 
eyes. Then, suddenly, there came into my mind what Gloucester says 
in King Lear when Edgar commiserates with him on his blindness - T 
stumbled when I saw.* Just five simple, ordinary words, but the effect 
was immediate and terrific. My man loved them, and kept saying them 
over and over. As I went out of the ward I could hear him still repeating 
them in a loud, joyous voice: ‘I stumbled when I saw.* 

So, as a child, a writer was in my eyes a kind of god; any writer, no 
matter how obscure, or even bogus, he might be. To compare a writer 
with some famous soldier or administrator or scientist or politician or 
actor was, in my estimation, quite ludicrous. There was no basis for 
comparison; any more than between, say, Francis of Assisi and Dr 
SpocL Perhaps more aware of this passion than I realised, when I was 



A Part in Search of a Play 13 

still a schoolboy my father took me to a dinner at a Soho restaurant at 
which G. K. Chesterton was being entertained. I remember that the 
proprietor of the restaurant presented me with a box of crystallised 
fruits which turned out to be bad. As far as I was concerned, it wa9 an 
occasion of inconceivable glory. I observed with fascination the enor- 
mous bulk of the guest of honour, his great stomach and plump hands; 
how his pince-nez on a black ribbon were almost lost in the vast expanse 
of his face, and how when he delivered himself of what he considered 
to be a good remark he had a way of blowing into his moustache with a 
sound like an expiring balloon. His speech, if he made one, was lost on 
me, but I vividly recall how I persuaded my father to wait outside the 
restaurant while we watched the great man make his way down the 
street in a billowing black cloak and old-style bohemian hat with a large 
brim. I only saw him once again. That was years later, shortly before he 
died, when on a windy afternoon he was sitting outside the Ship Hotel 
at Brighton, and clutching to himself a thriller in a yellow jacket. It, too, 
like the pince-nez, seemed minute by comparison with his immensity. 
By that time, the glory of the earlier occasion had departed. 

Long before I could read them, or even properly identify the letters, 
I used to turn over the pages of my father’s books. Also, I regularly 
scrutinised our newspaper, the Daily News , more particularly because 
my father told me it had once been edited by Dickens, though its 
contents, too, were largely a9 mysterious to me as Egyptian hiero- 
glyphics. I even remember the arrival of the first issue of the New 
Statesman , my father being an original subscriber. Its rather soggy 
paper - almost like blotting-paper - could, I discovered, be used to 
make ersatz cigarettes. I puffed at it before I began to read it, still less 
to write in it, deriving, I dare say, more solid satisfaction from it then 
than ever I did subsequently. On one of my early birthdays I was given 
a toy printing-set with whose large rubber letters I was able to print off 
my first composition. It was a story of a train going along very fast and, 
to the satisfaction of the passengers, racing through the small stations 
along the track without stopping. Their satisfaction, however, turned 
to dismay, and then to panic fury, as it dawned on them that it was not 
going to stop at their stations either when it came to them. They raged 
and shouted and shook their fists, but all to no avail. The train went 
roaring on. At the time I had no notion what, if anything, the story 
signified. It just came into my mind, and the rubber letters dropped 
into place of themselves. Yet, as I came to see, and see now more 
clearly than ever, it is the story I have been writing ever since; the story 



14 The Green Stick 

of our time. The imagination, at however rudimentary a level, reaches 
into the future. So its works have a prophetic quality. A Dostoevsky 
foresees just what a revolution will mean in Russia - in a sense, foresees 
the Soviet regime and Stalin; whereas a historian like Miliukov and 
his liberal-intellectual friends envisage the coming to pass of an amiable 
parliamentary democracy. Similarly, a Blake or a Herman Melville 
sees clearly through the imagination the dread consequences industrial- 
ism and technology must have for mankind, whereas, as envisaged in 
the mind of a Herbert Spencer or an H. G. Wells, they can bring only 
expanding wealth and lasting well-being. It was not until much later 
that I came to identify the passengers in my train as Lord Beveridge, 
Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Kingsley Martin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and 
any number of progressive prelates, mahatmas, millionaires, regius 
professors and other such eminent persons. 

Words being my single pursuit, I have to accept my output of them 
as being, as it were, my gross personal product. And what an output! - 
millions and millions, on all manner of subjects and in all manner of 
contexts. Declamatory leading articles and little ridiculous gossip 
paragraphs; sonorous obituaries, news stories of all shapes and sizes; 
miscellaneous book reviews, feature articles, captions, commentaries 
and scripts. If, after aeons of time in hell or heaven or purgatory, I 
were to be asked what earthly life was like, I should still, I am sure, say 
it was a sheet of paper fixed in a typewriter and needing to be covered 
with words; not to-morrow, or next week, or next year, but now. I 
should say it was a clapper-board snapped to, followed by a peremptory 
voice pronouncing the word: ‘Action! * A floor-manager’s hand raised, 
then dramatically falling; a camera advancing with bloodshot eye. Voice, 
hand and camera equally demanding instant words. 

Surveying now this monstrous Niagara of words so urgently called 
for and delivered, I confess they signify to me a lost life. Possibilities 
vaguely envisaged but never realised. A light glimpsed, only to dis- 
appear. Something vaguely caught, as it might be distant music or an 
elusive fragrance; something full of enchantment and the promise of 
ecstasy. Far, far away, and yet near; at the very farthermost rim of time 
and space, and in the palm of my hand. In any case, whether strained 
after in the remote distance, or reached for near at hand - unattained. 
No light seen more enduring than a match flickering out in a dark cave. 
No lasting ecstasy experienced, only a door closed, and footsteps echoing 
ever more faintly down stone stairs. 

I am not for one moment suggesting, let me hasten to add, that this 



A Part in Search of a Play 1 5 

sense of a lost life is due to there being no Times Literary Supplement - 
certified or Leavis-sanctified Oeuvre among my remains. My grave is 
quiet; I have no regrets for masterpieces unwritten, for genius unful- 
filled. It has long seemed abundantly clear to me that I was bom into a 
dying, if not already dead, civilisation, whose literature was part of the 
general decomposition; a heap of rubble scavenged by scrawny Eng. Lit. 
vultures, and echoing with the hyena cries of Freudians looking for 
their Marx and Marxists looking for their Freud. This, despite adam’s 
apples quivering over winged collars to extol it, and money, money, 
money, printed off and stuffed into briefcases to finance it. At the begin- 
ning of a civilisation, the role of the artist is priestly; at the end, harle- 
quinade. From St Augustine to St Ezra Pound, from Plainsong to the 
Rolling Stones, from El Greco to Picasso, from Chartres to the Empire 
State Building, from Benvenuto Cellini to Henry Miller, from Pascal’s 
Pensees to Robinson’s Honest to God . A Gadarene descent down which 
we all must slide, finishing up in the same slough. 

By the same token, a strange certainty has possessed me, almost since 
I can remember, that the Lord Mayor riding in his coach, the Lord 
Chancellor seated on his Woolsack, Honourable and Right Honourable 
Members facing one another across the floor of the House of Commons, 
were somehow the end of a line. That soon there would be no more 
Lord Mayors, Lord Chancellors, Honourable and Right Honourable 
Members, the Mother of Parliaments having reached her time of life 
or menopause, and become incapable of any further procreation. That 
figure in a velvet-trimmed gown with a floppy black hat on his head 
leading a procession of familiar celebrities similarly attired - he can’t 
really be a Vice-Chancellor, can he? Any more than that red-tabbed one 
is a general. Or that braided one an admiral. Surely the old gentleman 
in the purple cassock so weirdly grimacing - surely he’s an extra, 
hurriedly fitted out by the wardrobe mistress at the last moment and 
pushed on to the stage. Even the cash - yes, even the cash - so eagerly 
or earnestly accumulated and stowed away in the great bank-refriger- 
ators, won’t last; there’s been a power-cut, the electric current has gone 
off, and it’s melting away. 

As for literature and the arts, as cherished by Jennie Lee, and nestling 
under Lord Goodman’s downy wing, listen to the Missa Solemnis after 
the Beatles, and be thankful to Cage for his soundless concertos and 
symphonies. Likewise, render hearty thanks to Beckett for his wordless, 
actionless, mindless play after taking a look at Oh Calcutta! Corbusier’s 
high-rises are sweet, but those unbuilt are sweeter. After Bacon’s 



1 6 The Green Stick 

canvases, blessings on those empty ones trendy curators delight to buy 
for vast sums of money and hang in their galleries! Where are the Parnas- 
sians of yesteryear; the dear, drunken Americans gathering in Paris at 
the Shakespeare Bookshop with Sylvia Beach to care for them, Gertrude 
Stein or Alice B. Toklas to bore them? Or drying out their hangovers 
in the Riviera sun? Alas, poor Scott, and poorer Zelda, and Ernest with 
a self-made hole in his head; the only shot he ever fired that found its 
target! Whether back into the dark unconscious with Lawrence, or to 
the end of the night with Celine; whether forward with Marcuse, or 
sideways with McLuhan, or all over the place with Sartre - no matter. 
Existentialists of the world uniting, and old Shaw lighting the way to 
the Good Fabian, Stalin. Oh, Brecht, where is thy sting? 

Doubtless other glories lie ahead. Bigger and better capsules carried 
to the moon; down in the test-tube something stirs; ‘I think, therefore, 
you’re not,’ says the computer. We all know, though, in our hearts, 
that our old homestead is falling down; with death-watch beetles in the 
rafters, and dry rot in the cellar, and unruly tenants whose only concern 
is to pull the place to pieces. Thus placed, my own inclination has been 
to join in the buffoonery, but the more scholastically inclined may 
emulate T. S. Eliot and construct a Wasteland out of bits and pieces 
culled from Donne, Milton and many a metaphysical compilation. As 
the Romans, when they were no longer capable of constructing trium- 
phal arches, would still erect one to celebrate some fraudulent hero’s 
home-coming, using for their material bits and pieces taken from old 
fallen triumphal arches put up in the days of Rome’s greatness. 

Nor is my sense of a lost life due to repining over opportunities 
missed, hopes unrealised, happiness vainly pursued. There are no 
human causes I wish I had served better, no wonders I wish I had seen, 
no women I wish I had seduced - or, for that matter, wish I had not 
seduced; no books I wish I had read, languages I wish I had learnt; no 
events whose outcome I wish I could know. I have never greatly cared 
for the world, or felt particularly at home in it. Just walking along the 
road we lived in when I was a child I would find myself wondering, 
with a poignancy I find it difficult now to convey, who I was and how 
I came to be in that place. As though it were a foreign land and I a 
stranger, knowing no one and unable to speak the language. On oc- 
casions later, when I was in some sort of position of authority - say, in 
an editorial chair - 1 found myself likewise wondering how it could 
possibly have happened that decisions should be referred to, of all 
people, me. As it might be looking at dummies or roughs of drawings, 



A Part in Search of a Play 17 

finding things to say - 1 like it, I don’t much care for it, it might be 
better thus and thus. Ultimately deciding to go with that and that rather 
than that and the other; but lacking any true conviction or involvement. 
Not truly participating, even though ostensibly deciding. 

Again, in the ultimate fantasy of war, wondering: What’s that on my 
shoulder? Pips? A crown? Hands raised to their caps to salute me, mine 
raised to salute others. Why? Or yet again, in the even more ultimate 
fantasy of sex- Whose is this body lying beside mine? To what end? 
How did it get here? How, for that matter, did I? Watching my own 
body making bizarre movements, emitting strange groans, in relation 
to this other body, as though I were in no way concerned. Like seeing 
oneself on television - a figure on a screen, a stranger, a speaking shadow 
whose words seem to come out of some immense cave; dry and remote 
and dead. In this sense, it is possible to look back on a life as so much 
footage. Or, better - a scene that has often come into my mind, both 
sleeping and waking - 1 am standing in the wings of a theatre waiting 
for my cue to go on stage. As I stand there I can hear the play proceeding, 
and suddenly it dawns on me that the lines I have learnt are not in this 
play at all, but belong to a quite different one. Panic seizes me; I wonder 
frenziedly what I should do. Then I get my cue. Stumbling, falling 
over the unfamiliar scenery, I make my way on to the stage, and there 
look for guidance to the prompter, whose head I can just see rising out 
of the floor-boards. Alas, he only signals helplessly to me, and I realise 
that of course his script is different from mine. I begin to speak my 
lines, but they are incomprehensible to the other actors and abhorrent 
to the audience, who begin to hiss and shout: ‘Get off the stage!* ‘Let 
the play go on!* ‘You’re interrupting!* I am paralysed and can think of 
nothing to do but to go on standing there and speaking my lines that 
don’t fit. The only lines I know. 

There are so many plays to have a part in. As it might be a great 
love scene; flesh to flesh, and eternity in your eyes. Nonsense! That 
comes from Antony and Cleopatra . Or a great drama of action; firing 
off-stage, alarums and excursions, a dashing salute. ‘Sir, I caught the 
spy!* Nonsense, again! Leave that to Fleming. Or a political satire, 
Trollopian, Disraelian, with the part of an eminence grise for me. Or 
rather, dicliveti . No, that will never do either; render unto Snow the 
things that are Snow’s. Or a majestic voice on the telly - a voice, though, 
that is for ever Dimbleby. Or a typewriter mightier than the sword; 
meaning Don Quixote’s, of course. So many and so varied plays, but 
never a one with my lines in it. Yet I remain ever more convinced that 

C.W.T. — B 



1 8 The Green Stick 

at last I shall find the play my lines belong to, and speak them. Like 
choristers waiting to sing; hearing unfamiliar music rumbling from the 
organ; poised ready, and then - the notes they are waiting for, the tune 
they know. Uplifted, their faces shining and glorious, they pour out 
their song, filling the air with confident, full-throated notes. 

How can I ever explain to those who insist that we must believe in 
the world to love it that it is because I disbelieve in the world that I love 
every breath I take, look forward with ever-greater delight to the coming 
of each spring, rejoice ever more in the companionship of my fellow- 
humans, to no single one of whom - searching my heart - do I wish ill, 
and from no single one of whom do I wish to separate myself, in word 
or thought or deed, or in the prospect of some other existence beyond 
the ticking of the clocks, the vista of the hills, the bounds and dimensions 
of our earthly hopes and desires? To accept this world as a destination 
rather than a staging-post, and the experience of living in it as expressing 
life’s full significance, would seem to me to reduce life to something too 
banal and trivial to be taken seriously or held in esteem. The only thing 
that could make me falter in taking a position of extreme, if not de- 
mented, optimism about our human condition and prospects would be 
if one of the prospectuses for an earthly paradise - whether Scandi- 
navian-Styled, British-Beveridge, old Stalin-Ware, Dollar-Reinforced, 
Mao-Special, Tito- or Castro-ised - looked like providing a satisfying 
or fulfilled way of life. On this score I see no cause for present anxiety. 
To attempt to expose and ridicule the fraudulence of such prospectuses 
is no more life-denying than exposing the fraudulence of one for building 
a housing estate on the slopes of Etna would be shelter-denying. 

In other words, the Christian proposition that he that loves his life 
in this world shall lose it, and he that hates his life in this world shall 
see it projected and glorified into eternity, is for living, not for dying. 
After all, it was a St Francis who truly loved the world he so gaily 
abjured, as his enchanting prayers and canticles convey; not a P&re 
Goriot who so cherished its commodities. It is misers and Don Juans 
who moan; spendthrifts and saints are always laughing. As the writer 
of Ecclesiastes so delightfully puts it: ‘For to him that is joined to all the 
living there is hope; for a living dog is better than a dead lion.’ All I 
can claim to have learnt from the years I have spent in this world is that 
the only happiness is love, which is attained by giving, not receiving; 
and that the world itself only becomes the dear and habitable dwelling 
place it is when we who inhabit it know we are migrants, due when 
the time comes to fly away to other more commodious skies. 



A Part in Search of a Play 19 

I have never, I should add, learnt anything from any exhortation or 
homily; any political, ethical, theological or philosophical exposition; 
any presentation in any form of plans, programmes or blue-prints for 
happy living. Nor from any supernatural visitation or sudden Damascus 
Road prostration. Only from the experience of living itself, or - what 
is the same thing - the distillation of that experience in the visions of 
mystics and the productions of great writers and artists. Learning from 
experience means, in practice, learning from suffering; the only school- 
master. Everyone knows that this is so, even though they try to persuade 
themselves and their fellows otherwise. Only so is it possible to under- 
stand how it came about that, through all the Christian centuries, people 
have been prepared to accept the Cross, ostensibly a symbol of suffering, 
as the true image and guarantee of their creator’s love and concern for 
them. To climb the highest, stoniest mountain to set it on its peak; to 
carry it to the remotest, darkest, most forbidding corners of the earth; 
to build great cathedrals to glorify it; to find in it the inspiration for the 
most sublime achievements and noblest lives over the last two thousand 
years. 

T desire to set before my fellows the likeness of a man in all truth of 
nature, and that man myself/ Rousseau begins his Confessions , and then 
proceeds to construct a vast, serpentine edifice of lies and fantasies. 
The hazards in the way of telling the truth are, indeed, very great. 
Seeking it, one can so easily become enmeshed in lies; ‘A truth that’s 
told with bad intent/Beats all the lies you can invent,’ Blake wrote. 
Every man the centre of his own universe; insensibly, we sub-edit as 
we go along, to produce headlines, cross-heads, a story line most 
favourable to our egos. How indestructible, alas, is that ego! Thinking 
to have struck it down once and for all, I find its hissing cobra-head 
lifted again, deathless. 

Yet even so, truth is very beautiful; more so, as I consider, than 
justice - to-day’s pursuit - which easily puts on a false face. In the 
nearly seven decades I have lived through, the world has overflowed 
with bloodshed and explosions whose dust has never had time to settle 
before others have erupted; all in purportedly just causes. The quest for 
justice continues, and the weapons and the hatred pile up; but truth 
was an early casualty. The lies on behalf of which our wars have been 
fought and our peace treaties concluded! The lies of revolution and of 
counter-revolution! The lies of advertising, of news, of salesmanship, 
of politics! The lies of the priest in his pulpit, the professor at his 
podium, the journalist at his typewriter! The lie stuck like a fish-bone 



20 The Green Stick 

in the throat of the microphone, the hand-held lies of the prowling 
cameraman! Ignazio Silone told me once how, when he was a member of 
the old Comintern, some stratagem was under discussion, and a dele- 
gate, a newcomer who had never attended before, made the extra- 
ordinary observation that if such and such a statement were to be put 
out, it wouldn’t be true. There was a moment of dazed silence, and then 
everyone began to laugh. They laughed and laughed until tears ran 
down their cheeks and the Kremlin walls seemed to shake. The same 
laughter echoes in every council chamber and cabinet room, wherever 
two or more are gathered together to exercise authority. It is truth that 
has died, not God. 

I often wonder how, in such circumstances, it will ever be possible 
to know anything at all about the people and the happenings of our 
time. Such masses and masses of documentation! Statistics without 
end, data of every kind, eye-witness accounts, miles and miles of film, 
video abounding. Surely out of all this, posterity, if so desiring, will be 
able to reconstruct us and our lives. But will they? I think of Sidney 
and Beatrice Webb down at Passfield patiently collecting and collating 
every scrap of information they could lay hands on about the Soviet 
regime. Travelling about the USSR to the same end. As experienced 
investigators, so rigorous and careful. Checking every fact, testing every 
hypothesis. And the result? - a monumental folly, a volume of fantasy 
compared with which Casanova’s Memoirs, Frank Harris’s even, are 
sober and realistic. Or I think of the messages of Our Own Corres- 
pondent, here, there and everywhere, and of all the different factors 
which shape them and slant them and confection them. I remember 
the yellow ticker-tape piling up in my office in the Washington National 
Press Building, and delving into it to pull out a nugget to whisk off 
on my own account to New York and London. Will this be much help 
to posterity? I doubt it. Comment is free, but news is sacred, was C. P. 
Scott’s great dictum for The Guardian. Yes, but whose news? 

This Life’s dim Windows of the Soul 
Distorts the Heavens from Pole to Pole 
And leads you to Believe a Lie 
When you see with, not thro’, the Eye. 

There never have been such adepts at seeing with, rather than through, 
the eye, as the purveyors of Scott’s sacred news; inducing their readers, 
all too willingly, to believe a multitude of lies. 

Or, again, I think of a camera crew on the job. Sound recordist and 



A Part in Search of a Play 21 

cameraman umbilically linked as they back away from their commen- 
tator, sedately walking and communing; their producer anxiously 
hovering behind to prevent them from stumbling and falling. Moving 
with a kind of pas-de-deux step, rather like a matador approaching his 
bull. Are they holding a mirror up to nature? Cinema veritd or fabitd ? 
Where’s the plastic grass? Or, as I once saw written on a can of film - 
surely the perfect celluloid epitaph: ‘Dawn for dusk.’ The eye is the 
window of the soul; film an iron-shutter, says Kafka. On the day that 
Harold Wilson became Prime Minister for the first time, I happened to 
be in Chicago, and stood in Michigan Avenue with a camera crew and 
a microphone asking passers-by what they thought about him and our 
change of government. To my great satisfaction, I was unable to find 
anyone, old or young, black or white, smart or stupid, who had heard 
of the event or cared anything about it. Behind where I was questioning 
them, up above the Tribune Building, there was one of those devices 
whereby news flashes by in fiery letters. Every minute or so it repeated: 
DOUGLAS-HOME RESIGNS . . . HAROLD WILSON NEW BRITISH 
premier ... A fine background to cut to! In Moscow when the great 
purges were on, some moon-faced Intourist, trying in good liberal style 
to be fair to both sides, asked one of the British newspaper correspon- 
dents there -A. T. Cholerton of the Daily Telegraph -whether the 
accusations against the Old Bolsheviks standing trial were true. Yes, 
Cholerton told him, everything was true, except the facts. It fits, not 
just the purges and Moscow, but the whole mid-twentieth century 
scene. Perhaps some astronaut, watching from afar the final incinera- 
tion of our earth, may care to write it across the stratosphere: Everything 
true except the facts . 

Yet again, supposing a wish on the part of posterity to know what 
some of our great ones were really like. John F. Kennedy, say. In the 
archives, trainloads of material. Photographs and profiles without end; 
abundance of tape, both video and sound. We can show you him smiling, 
walking, talking. On stage and off, as it were; relaxing with his family, 
addressing the nation, eating, dozing, praying. We have his jokes, we 
know the books he read; you can see and hear him delivering his great 
speeches, or fooling with his kids. You can pretty well see him being 
assassinated; you can see his assassin being assassinated. What more do 
you want? Isn’t that the man, the whole man, and nothing but the man? 
Well, not quite. It’s like a nightmare I once had. I was calling on some- 
one I loved dearly; the door open, the kettle boiling, a chair drawn up 
to the fire, a book open, spectacles laid beside it. But no one there. 



22 The Green Stick 

Maybe upstairs. With growing anxiety I climb the stairs. Not in the 
bedroom, though clothes are scattered about; not in the bathroom, 
though it’s still moist and misty from a bath recently taken. Downstairs 
again; really terrified now. Maybe gone to post a letter. To exercise the 
dog. Listening for every footstep, starting at every sound, the tension 
becomes unbearable, and I wake up. In the same sort of way, our 
methods of representation include every detail, leaving out only the 
person to be represented. In a sense, they’re too perfect. Simulation 
becomes what it simulates; the image becomes the man. In Kennedy’s 
case, even his signature was done for him by a machine which so 
exactly reproduced the hand signing his name that experts cannot 
distinguish between his real signature and the mechanical ones. In the 
excitement and distress of the Dallas tragedy, no one remembered to 
turn the machine off. So the President went on signing genial, ‘personal- 
ised’ letters after he was dead. 

In this Sargasso Sea of fantasy and fraud, how can I or anyone else 
hope to swim unencumbered? How see with, not through, the eye? 
How take off my own motley, wash away the make-up, raise the iron 
shutter, put out the studio lights, silence the sound effects and put the 
cameras to sleep? Watch the sun rise on Sunset Boulevard, and set over 
Forest Lawn? Find furniture among the studio props, silence in a 
discotheque, love in a strip-tease? Read truth off an autocue, catch it 
on a screen, chase it on the wings of Muzak ? View it in living colour 
with the news, hear it in living sound along the motorways? Not in the 
wind that rent the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks; not in the 
earthquake that followed, nor in the fire that followed the earthquake. 
In a still small voice. Not in the screeching of tyres, either, or in the 
grinding of brakes; not in the roar of the jets or the whistle of sirens; 
not in the howl of trombones, the rattle of drums or the chanting of 
demo voices. Again, that still small voice - if only one could catch it. 



2 A Socialist Upbringing 



The world will become a heavenly commune to which men will 
bring the inmost treasures of their hearts, in which they will reserve 
for themselves not even a hope, not even the shadow of a joy, but 
will give up all for mankind. With one faith, with one desire, they 
will labour together in the sacred cause - the extinction of disease, 
the extinction of sin, the perfection of genius, the perfection of love, 
the invention of immortality, the exploration of the infinite, and the 
conquest of creation. 

- The Martyrdom of Man , by Winwood Reade 

my life began in a small semi-detached house in Sanderstead, part 
of the dormitory town of Croydon. This was in 1903, when there were 
still traces of its village past. A drinking-trough for horses, for instance, 
an ancient churchyard, and other such intimations of antiquity. But 
already the tidal wave of London was sweeping over the place, so that 
soon it would just be part of a single huge urban area, with no difference 
between one district and another save the postal address and the name 
of the railway station. In this urban conglomerate I was bom and bred. 
My brothers and I - we were five boys - were brought up to look with 
distaste on the suburbia which was our native habitat. It was mean and 
foolish, like the Pooters in The Diary of a Nobody ; and came under the 
general anathema of being petit-bourgeois which, in the vague Marxism 
which provided our theology, signified contemptible, despicable. We 
would say of someone we disliked that he was petit-bourgeois in precisely 
the same way that middle- or upper-class boys at that time would say 
he was under-bred. This attitude bred in us - or at least inme-a sort 
of social schizophrenia; we were snobs in relation to our neighbours, 
and anti-snobs in relation to those above and below us in the social 
scale. I know that I had a dream fantasy of a Teal worker* sitting in 
braces in front of a roaring fire and drinking cups of strong tea which 



24 The Green Stick 

his missus had just prepared for him. A Hoggartian figure straight out of 
Sons and Lovers ; illiterate, maybe, but gloriously so, putting to shame 
the literate with the pungency and grace of his utterance and ways. The 
salt of the earth. Likewise, of a ‘real gentleman*, contemptuous of the 
paltry hopes and timidities of suburban gentility; a Steerforth figure, or 
Brushwood Boy, audacious, arrogant perhaps, and too conscious of his 
own superiority, but still someone worth emulating, even though, at the 
same time, packing him off in a tumbril. 

Between these two dream fantasies lay the suburban no-man’s-land 
in which we lived. Hateful, despicable, ridiculous; little houses with 
preposterous names like The Elms, Chez-Nous, The Nook; with 
tradesmen’s entrances when there was scarcely room for a tolerable 
front door, and mock-Tudor beams and gables. I discovered in the 
Blitz, rather to my surprise, that my hatred of this environment of my 
childhood had survived, to the point that I found myself exulting in the 
minuteness of the deposit left behind after the bombs had fallen. No 
more than little heaps of dust and debris. Gone, just like that; lacking 
the solidity and dignity even to make a ruin. In most of the successful 
writers of our time (politicians, too, for that matter; not to mention the 
pundits of the air and campus), coming, as they do, from the same sort 
of environment, similar stigmata may be detected. H. G. Wells, for 
instance, and his Kipps and Mr Polly. D. H. Lawrence storming out of 
Nottingham with his Baroness on his arm. Lucky Jim, and the wilder 
fantasies of Brideshead. That fearful symmetry Blake writes about, 
inexorably discloses itself. I think with awe of the perfection of the 
demonstration in, for instance, Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell; the 
one in his country gentleman’s outfit, loud checks, overcoat sweeping 
the ground, grey bowler perched on large head, ear-trumpet to hand; 
the other in corresponding proletarian fancy-dress, corduroy trousers, 
not actually tied up with string, but as near as can be, choker round the 
neck, ancient drooping coat, hand-rolled shag cigarette. Both taken from 
back numbers of Punch . Why bother to write when the Lord provides 
such pictures? 

My father was a small man, with wide shoulders and a frame that 
seemed to belong to a bigger body than his. The reason for this dis- 
crepancy between the structure and substance of him was, he told me, 
that as a child he had been badly and poorly fed. At the same time, 
being very energetic by temperament, he had always kept on the move. 
He had a sense of himself as being physically grotesque. ‘I’m an ugly 



A Socialist Upbringing 25 

man,’ he said to me once with a kind of droll pathos. Tve always been 
ugly.* It was true in a way, and yet not true. He had a quality of dis- 
tinction about him; even a certain beauty, deriving from his energy and 
exuberance. I should explain that he often reminisced and ruminated 
about himself to me in a way that, in those days, certainly, was unusual. 
Thus I came to have an exceptionally vivid sense of him and his life. 
More so, in a way, than of my own. Of his moods of melancholy and 
self-depreciation; of his large-mouthed sensuality, his spongy pin- 
cushion nose, his gift of the gab, his ultimate sense of his own and 
everything else’s intrinsic absurdity; of his abounding, irrepressible ego. 
Am I describing myself? As I only realised long afterwards, of all things, 
he wanted me to be different from him. To go to Cambridge and emerge 
like one of his heroes - Tawney, or Lowes Dickinson, or even Hugh 
Dalton. To speak down my nose as dons and Fabians did. To be as well 
informed as Sidney Webb, as rumbustious as Wells, as witty and rich 
as Shaw. Devastatingly amusing, splendidly eloquent on behalf of the 
down-trodden and oppressed; author, orator, statesman, seer. And all 
that emerged was another edition of him. So much effort and money 
expended just for that! 

There was one terrible occasion, some dinner at the Greyhound 
Hotel in Croydon when I was the guest of honour. I’ve even got a 
photograph of it. Local notabilities in miscellaneous evening dress; 
white waistcoats showing under black coats, dubious bow ties. My 
father among them. Then the dreadful moment; pray silence for ... I 
rose to my feet, knowing, as always, exactly what he was thinking and 
hoping. Witty remarks, audience convulsed; then punching home some 
profundities, memorable phrases reproduced in the local paper - the 
Croydon Advertiser , the Croydon Times . I could think of nothing to say 
except how I loved and respected him, what a wonderful human being 
he was, how much he had done for me, for Croydon, for the poor and 
ill-used everywhere. I plunged ever deeper into my fatal misconception, 
and as I went on saw he was stricken. At one point he actually ejaculated 
a strangled: No! I have always been touched by the way Dr Johnson 
went to Lichfield and stood in the market-place for a whole day as an 
act of penitence for lack of consideration for his bookseller father. I 
ought to do the same thing, in front of the Croydon Town Hall, a 
Betjeman-beloved neo-Gothic building of quite exceptional architec- 
tural confusion; stand there and recall that dreadful dinner, and the 
anguish and disappointment I inflicted on my father at it. 

As he recounted his life to me, it sounded exactly like a Dickens 



26 The Green Stick 

novel. Dickens was a great bond between us. He would read aloud bits 
to me; like Silas Wegg declining and falling for the edification of Mr 
Boffin. Doing the accents; I can hear him now - Wegg, having been told 
by Mr Boffin that if anything took his fancy he was to mention it, 
pausing majestically: ‘I think I see a weal and ham pie!’ How I laughed, 
and, for that matter, cried over the sentimental passages like the death 
of Dora Copperfield, which I also loved. Dickens is the true inspirer, 
and remains to a great extent the embodiment, of English Radicalism 
or Leftism; his stamp is still upon the Labour Party stalwarts, as it was 
upon my father. How appropriate that in the USSR his strictures on 
the Poor Law and other abuses of his time continue to be regarded as 
valid! In a sort of way they are, too. His capacity for turning on a 
passionate flood of righteous indignation at any time; his tears for the 
poor, and love of money and success; his scorn for his social superiors, 
and passion to be like them; the sentimentality in which all his emotions, 
public and private, were drenched, and the corresponding humour 
which so incomparably expressed what he really felt, how he really 
saw his fellows and the world he lived in - is not this characteristic of 
any of our leaders of the Left, from Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan 
to Harold Wilson? 

I took Dickens’s novels out of the Croydon Public Library one after 
the other, and somehow managed to tear the pages of Our Mutual Friend 
rather badly, which was noticed when I returned the book. I awaited 
the awful consequences, which duly came when I noticed a letter from 
the Chief Librarian in my father’s morning mail. He read it, frowned, 
taxed me with the offence, which I admitted. I had no choice. Then he 
went off to catch his train, and all through the day I wondered what 
dreadful fate would befall me. However, in the evening my father 
seemed particularly cheerful, and read aloud to me the reply he had 
sent to the Chief Librarian. It apologised on my behalf for my offence, 
offered to make restitution for the damage done. Then came the beauti- 
ful sentence which put the letter, as far as I was concerned, in the same 
class as Johnson’s to Lord Chesterfield (a subsequent comparison, 
naturally): ‘I feel sure that the damage done to the book was due, not 
to any spirit of wanton destructiveness on my son’s part, nor even to 
the natural carelessness of youth, but rather to his love of the book in 
question, and impatience to get at its contents.* (Remembering it 
from so long ago, I may not have got the words exactly right, but I am 
sure approximately so.) He liked the words as much as I did; they came 
rolling lusciously off his tongue. I knew my troubles were over. Nor, 



A Socialist Upbringing 27 

as it turned out, did my father even have to pay the Librarian any 
compensation. 

My father was the eldest of a large family; I think nine children, 
but there may have been more. Their father had an undertaker’s business 
in Penge, and was, it seemed, weak and self-indulgent, though possessed 
of certain social graces. He abandoned his family when my father was 
twelve, but reappeared from time to time. At thirteen my father left 
school, as you could in those days, if you were clever and passed an 
exam. It was the exact opposite to now when you pass an exam to be 
able to stay on at school. Both arrangements seem rather silly. His 
mother, meanwhile - a woman of strong character - set up in a second- 
hand furniture business in Penge High Street. I have been up and down 
this street trying to imagine where the shop may have been. When I 
asked my father how she conducted the business, he tapped the side 
of his nose in a very Dickensian way, winked, and said: ‘She bought 
cheap and sold dear.’ Anyway, the business enabled her to support 
the family. On leaving school my father took a job as an office boy with 
a firm of shirt manufacturers, remaining with them for the rest of his 
working life. He became secretary to the company, and was at one point 
invited to join the board if he would agree to give up his political 
activities. This he declined to do, and so never became rich. He told 
me that his salary never reached a thousand a year, but he may be said 
to have thriven. We never lacked for anything essential. 

He contributed to his mother’s household from the few shillings a 
week he earned as an office boy. From that time on, he once wryly 
remarked, he always had people dependent on him. To economise, he 
took what was then called the Workmen’s Train from Penge to London 
Bridge, which went very early, but was cheaper than the ones later in 
the day. (What would it be called now if it existed? The Health Train, 
maybe. Or, more whimsically, the Early Bird Train. Or, for the 
ideologically alert, the Workers’ Train.) It meant that he arrived an 
hour or so before his office opened, which he spent roaming through the 
City. In those days, he told me, he used to run more often than walk. 
Strolling through the City, as I sometimes did on a Sunday afternoon 
when I was working in Fleet Street, I have often imagined him darting 
about those streets like an excited sparrow. Between his departure on 
the Workmen’s Train and return to Penge round about seven was a 
long stretch, sustained, more often than not, by nothing more sub- 
stantial than buns and meat pies. His office was in New Basinghall 
Street off Moorgate; it was totally destroyed in the Blitz. I visited him 



28 The Green Stick 

there when I was little older than he had been when he first started 
working, and can just remember, on what must have been that occasion, 
riding with him in a horse-drawn omnibus. His office, as I recall it, 
gave an impression of being dusty and murky. My father and his friend 
and colleague Mr Button were seated on two high stools with ledgers 
before them in the outer part of the office, from which doors opened 
into the private sanctums of the partners in the firm. Did my father 
ever graduate into one of these private sanctums? I rather doubt it. 
He had very beautiful hand-writing; not exactly copperplate, but the 
next best thing. Remarkably clear and regular and easy to read. I have, 
of course, many examples - letters, and so on - but the one I cherish 
most is the inscription in the first book I ever possessed. A Pageant of 
English Poetry , published by the Clarendon Press, which he gave me 
for Christmas 1914, when I was eleven; the year of doom. 

As my father’s circumstances improved, he acquired a house in 
Penge - with a mortgage, it goes without saying. By this means, he 
explained to me, he could protect his mother from the unwelcome visits 
of her husband. In fact, he had occasion to order him out of the house; 
something that afterwards he looked back on with a certain amount of 
remorse. I know, not only from what he said to me, but from scraps of 
writing that he left behind, that his attitude to his father distressed him. 
He felt he had been priggish. Once, he told me, he had seen his father 
on Victoria Station with his arm round a lady, and it had upset him 
considerably. After his father’s death (he did not go to the funeral), this 
lady, or maybe another, came to see him, saying that she was his step- 
mother and that there were a number of half-brothers and sisters he 
might care to meet. He showed her the door rather harshly, saying that 
he only knew of one wife his father had, and that was his mother. What 
happened to the lady and her offspring history does not relate. With 
his own five children and numerous other commitments, it was im- 
possible for him to take on a new lot, especially on such dubious 
credentials. All this gave me a great curiosity about my procreative 
undertaker grandfather whom I never saw, but the only trace of him I 
could ever find was an ancient dim photograph revealing a weak in- 
determinate face lurking behind a large blond moustache. From it I 
could easily imagine how appropriate a figure he would be in a funeral 
procession, as his profession required; top-hatted, frock-coated, sure 
and soft of foot, expression grave, and eyes downcast. His wife, my 
paternal grandmother, on the other hand - whom I also never saw - 
was clearly a very tough lady indeed; as she needed to be. She success- 



A Socialist Upbringing 29 

fully brought up her nine children, though losing some on the way from 
tuberculosis - a family complaint, of which I also had symptoms at one 
stage. When she lay dying in her late fifties, my father was with her, 
and described to me how he went to support her, but somehow messed 
it up, and she fell back among her pillows muttering: ‘You always were 
clumsy!’ Again, it was so exactly the sort of thing that might have 
happened to me. A photograph of her shows her in a bonnet, with 
resolute eyes, a large decisive nose and firm mouth. 

It would be possible to portray my father - certainly, he was liable 
to see himself so - as a victim of social injustice. He was prone to self- 
pity, as I have also been, though admittedly with far more justification 
than I. Yet even I, despite almost inconceivable good fortune, could 
drum up a case. How much more he, with his genuine deprivations and 
hardships. Obviously, nowadays he would have a quite different life. 
Go to a grammar school and on to the university, where he would 
undoubtedly have distinguished himself. Get into Parliament young 
enough to have a ministerial career (he was already in his sixties when 
he got elected for Romford in 1931); certainly in the Cabinet, maybe an 
outside chance of being Prime Minister. If Attlee, then any Labour 
Party stalwart may be considered as in the running. In any case, he 
would have thriven in the lush pastures between the London School of 
Economics, Whitehall and Westminster. There are plenty of prototypes 
among existing socialist brass. He would have been spared all those years 
of City drudgery; all that laborious learning French by himself and 
learning to play the piano. That strumming away at the piano, pipe in 
mouth, and so intent that spittle used to run along the stem, forming 
a great gob for whose falling I watched, fascinated! The Flying Dutchman 
played with immense vigour and verve, and a song from Faust which my 
mother used to sing in a quavering voice - ‘Oh Marguerita, Oh 
Marguerita, still on the bough is left a leaf of gold.* I was unfortunately 
not with him when he died, but away on war service on some tomfool 
Intelligence mission; but Kitty was, and described to me how he 
departed this life with a broad, joyous unforgettable wink. As a Rt. 
Hon., D.Lit., M.A., C.H., P.C., etc. etc., we shouldn’t have had the 
wink. I cherish it. 

Each age has its special pigeonholes for sorting out lives. In the nine- 
teenth century my father would have been type-cast as the office boy 
who worked his way up to be boss; in our time, as an example of gifts 
and abilities wasted for lack of opportunity. Now all that has been put 
right; look at Roy Jenkins. Well, look at him! 



30 The Green Stick 

I remember my father most vividly and characteristically at the top 
of Surrey Street on a Saturday evening, where in those days there used 
to be a street market, with gas flares by the booths, and plenty of 
hucksters coaxing passers-by to take advantage of a wonderful chance 
to buy a gold watch for next to nothing, or a salve that would cure 
anything from the pox to pink eye, or shaving soap so pure and luscious 
that you could eat it - which the huckster then proceeded to do to prove 
his point, stuffing the suds into his mouth as though they were turkish 
delight. Meanwhile, my father had set up his little frail platform, 
almost like a gallows against the evening sky, and climbed on to it. He 
was bearded by now, having grown his beard as a result of being 
afflicted with a skin complaint called barber’s rash which, I imagine, 
has now disappeared along with the cut-throat razor. The beard gave 
an extra dimension of drama to the scene; making a prophet of him, a 
voice crying in the wilderness against the soap suds man. I led the 
applause and the laughter, such as they were. Even at ten I knew for 
the most part what he would say; as well as all his jokes. They did not 
lose their piquancy for me because of that. I waited for them, sensed 
that they were coming, exploded with mirth prematurely when he was 
still working up to the pay-off line. ‘Now ladies and gentlemen,’ he 
would begin, addressing some ten or a dozen casual passers-by, who 
had paused out of curiosity to listen to him; along with myself, a couple 
of Labour Party stalwarts who had turned out with him, and perhaps 
another urchin or two - ‘Now ladies and gentlemen, can you tell me 
this? It’s His Majesty’s Government, His Majesty’s Navy, His Majesty’s 
Stationery Office. His Majesty’s This and His Majesty’s That. Every 
blooming thing seems to be His Majesty's. But it's the National Debt. 
Why isn’t that His Majesty’s? We’ll gladly let His Majesty have that, 
won’t we?' 

It might raise an occasional smile, but mostly the point was lost, 
except on me and the two stalwarts who, of course, had also heard it 
many times before. Undeterred, my father slogged on, abolishing 
poverty, illiteracy, war, inequality, every conceivable ill and injustice, 
and ushering in the glorious era of everlasting peace, prosperity and 
happiness. His voice rose, his gestures grew more intense; against the 
night sky, he was a gesticulating enraged shadow calling on mankind 
to turn away from their follies and false leaders and realise their true 
destiny. What a sublime prospect it seemed! How relatively easy of 
attainment! And yet the people in Surrey Street seemed strangely in- 
different; their attention more easily held by the gold watch, the magic 



A Socialist Upbringing 31 

salve, the edible shaving soap than by this sure prospectus for living 
happily ever after. Defiantly, my father, the two stalwarts and I sang 
‘The Red Flag* together, my small tuneless voice mixing with their 
deep ones, folded up his platform and made off carrying it. 

On these occasions I was always uplifted, never doubting that my 
father was right, and that all he promised could and would come to 
pass, despite the seeming indifference of those he addressed. In my 
copy of The Pilgrim's Progress , much thumbed, with its coloured illus- 
trations, Surrey Street was Vanity Fair, which, though it scorned us, 
would in the end come to follow the way we sign-posted. Even then I 
preferred Bunyan’s imagery to the statistical forecasts of our ultimate 
triumph, showing how we would capture the borough councils, Parlia- 
ment, the Government, until we were able to take over everything and 
everyone. Meanwhile, the co-operative societies - we were ardent co-op 
supporters - must in due course, since they gave back their profits to 
the customer, get all retail trade into their hands. Already the Croydon 
trams were run by the Corporation. How virtuously they glided along 
compared with the roistering free-enterprise buses! I should no more 
have thought of setting foot on a bus in those days than a strict Methodist 
would have thought of going into a public house. When I was sent 
shopping, it was taken for granted that the co-op must be my first call. 
Though co-op shops also had counters, and men in white coats who 
patted the butter into shape, and arrays of packaged goods, they were 
not as other shops. The coins one paid dropped into the till rather like 
a church offertory than a payment made and received; the bills had a 
picture of a wheatsheaf on them, and texts from the sayings of the 
Rochdale founding fathers. I remember so well that little row of shops; 
after the co-op, the butcher; the chemist, maybe, who also pulled out 
teeth for a shilling a time; the baker, who would add an extra crusty 
sliver of bread to make up the weight of a loaf which I munched on the 
way home. 

My mother came from Sheffield, where her father and some of her 
brothers worked in the cutlery industry. My father met her while on 
holiday in the Isle of Man. She was staying there with some relatives, 
the Gadsbys, who were relatively prosperous tradesmen. They had, my 
mother told me - she always spoke of them with a certain awe - several 
jewellery shops in seaside resorts, and, having taken a fancy to her, 
liked her to make long stays with them, which she cheerfully did. She 
greatly appreciated their superior affluent circumstances and the pretty 



32 The Green Stick 

dresses they bought her. It was an experience which much influenced 
her future tastes and aspirations. She told me once that her dream had 
been to go to church on Sunday mornings on my father’s arm, he in a 
top hat, and we five children following behind in single file, in order of 
seniority, each wearing Eton collars and jackets. Alas, this dream re- 
mained unrealised; like my father’s, as it would now be called, elitist 
one of my becoming a socialist toff, begotten by Keir Hardie out of 
Balliol with Toynbee Hall intervening. 

How, precisely, she and my father met I never learnt, but I think it 
must have been some sort of a pick-up. She was extremely pretty, with 
very fair hair, and an expression of fathomless innocence which she 
retained to a considerable degree to the end of her days. Only, if you 
looked deep into it, far, far below the pellucid surface, you came upon 
something steely, tough, and even merciless, there. I imagine a Wellsian 
encounter, my father and the two office pals who were on holiday with 
him, in high spirits, and my mother flattered at being the object of the 
attentions of such sprightly young fellows. My father returned to Penge 
and New Basinghall Street in a state of extreme exaltation. Some of his 
early letters to my mother remain extant; they are couched in highly 
romantic terms, and bear unmistakable traces of his literary studies. I 
found them touching, and rather beautiful; to me preferable, in their 
implications, to contemporary arrangements which, in any case, had 
they prevailed then, might well have precluded my being born at all. 
No great catastrophe, it might be contended, and I agree; though for me, 
all the same, a deprivation of sorts. 

My father went to Sheffield to be looked over, and gave satisfaction; 
my mother visited Penge, and though his mother, as appeared after- 
wards, had certain doubts, she kept them to herself, and gave her bless- 
ing to their union. A wedding photograph in a family album shows the 
bridal pair looking appropriately uplifted, though in my father’s case I 
thought I detected just a flicker of a reservation. No mood with him 
was ever quite homogeneous - another trait I inherited. Their marriage 
lasted to the end of their days, with suitable silver and golden celebra- 
tions. When my father died my mother closed his eyes, with a certain 
irritation at their refusing to open again, but never accustomed herself 
to life without him. The bed in which they had slept side by side 
through so many nights had two hollows in it; with the other un- 
occupied, my mother lay disconsolately in hers. 

Our Sheffield relations were a great source of interest and delight in 
our childhood. All of us at different times visited them for longer or 



A Socialist Upbringing 33 

shorter periods, which was considered a very special treat. (The family 
name, by the way, was Booler; I had to dredge it out of my memory 
years later when I applied to join a club in Washington D.C., and was 
required to give the name of my maternal grandmother in order to 
prove, presumably, that my blood was uncontaminated by Jewish or 
any other alien admixture.) They were particularly kind, warmhearted, 
cheerful people. Each Christmas they sent us a hamper of food con- 
taining parkin, home-made pork pies and other Yorkshire delicacies. 
Though my mother - as she certainly believed - might be considered to 
have improved her circumstances by moving south and marrying my 
father, we always thought of the Boolers as living more comfortably 
than we did. Their houses warmer and cosier, with a more ample table. 
At the same time, they were quite definitely working-class in their 
ways and outlook, as we were lower-middle-class. So, in the social 
categories of revolutionary mystique, they were downtrodden and 
oppressed, and we the running dogs of the exploiters. 

Looking back now, I find it curious that I never saw any disparity 
between the Boolers as I knew them and my dream fantasy of the noble 
proletarian; between my actual feelings about them and their allotted 
role in the great drama of revolution which I hoped with all my heart 
soon to see enacted - with, of course, a star part for me. I did once, it is 
true, ask my father how he could be sure that if, as he proposed, the 
proletariat were subjected to the same sort of education and style of 
living as our neighbours in South Croydon, and given the same little 
suburban houses to live in, and gardens to tend, and schools to go to, 
they would not just turn into petits bourgeois themselves, with all the 
stuck-up attitudes and philistine tastes we found so abhorrent? I really 
believe this was the only occasion on which we got anywhere near a 
political disagreement up to the time I left Cambridge, and probably a 
good deal beyond that. My father assured me that, with the right sort 
of education, things would not work out so, and I had to accept his word 
for it, though with some inward doubts. I might have cited the Boolers 
as a case in point, but didn’t. The truth is, of course, that the whole 
notion of a working class with a specific political or cultural, or even 
spiritual, role qua working class is a fantasy invented by guilt-stricken 
renegade proletarians like D. H. Lawrence, or by renegade bourgeoisie 
on the run like William Morris or, for that matter, Marx and Engels 
themselves, or just by sociologists looking for a subject and a job. It was 
serving in the ranks as an ageing private in my late thirties that clinched 
the matter for me. I discovered then that proletarians in a barrack- or 

C.W.T.— c 



34 The Green Stick 

NAAFI-hut Included all the familiar types (opinionated extrovert, shy 
introvert, artistic, homosexual, assertive, lecherous, etc. etc.) to be found 
among a similar collection of bourgeoisie. I might have been back at 
Cambridge, and in a very short while thought I was. 

I often sat up with my mother waiting for my father’s return from 
political meetings and municipal activities in which he was heavily 
engaged. Most evenings he was out. There was a certain tension in the 
air, a sense of impending drama. She resented, I knew, my father’s 
absence night after night, and, as I dimly understood, suspected that he 
did not necessarily tell her precisely where and with whom he had been. 
She felt excluded from all this part of his life; in his eyes, far the most 
important and significant part. So she sat there bolt upright in a sort of 
folding chair she always chose, looking severe and censorious. Even if 
she dozed off, her features remained set and taut. We talked little on 
the whole; she was not much of a conversationalist, except when 
reminiscing about her childhood and staying with the Gadsbys - that 
golden time. There was not really much to talk about from my point of 
view. She had read little, and even when she did read, it was very slowly, 
with her lips visibly moving as she spelt out the words. Writing a letter 
was, for her, a heavy labour - a round hand, with no punctuation, and 
shaky spelling. Yet I have to record that when I was away she quite 
often wrote to me; letters, as I should have remembered, representing 
so much effort on her part and, oddly, signed ‘Annie*, not ‘your affec- 
tionate mother’, or anything like that. Once when she was seriously ill 
in a nursing home near Bournemouth, and I went to see her, she 
indicated that she had something particular to say to me. I bent down 
my head, and at last she got it out; someone I was very interested in had 
in the past once occupied that house . . . someone . . . but she couldn’t 
quite manage the name. Then she managed it - Tolstoy. Afterwards 
I found out that she was quite right. Tolstoy had briefly stayed in the 
house during a visit to England. It was only afterwards that I remem- 
bered how touching it was of her to have stored up for me this particular 
piece of information which she knew I should cherish. One remembers 
such things too late. 

My mother had a way of sometimes using unexpectedly lurid phrases. 
Thus, at one of our evening sessions she noticed that I was apparently 
reading an English translation of Rousseau’s Confessions I’d picked up 
from among my father’s books. In point of fact, the book was far too 
difficult for me at that stage, and it was mere pretence on my part to 
be reading it. I was given to this sort of affectation, and even much later 



A Socialist Upbringing 35 

in my life, if I was reading in public - say, in a bus or a train - 1 liked 
it to be something that would strike anyone who happened to notice as 
being abstruse and exotic. Later I came to love the Confessions, even 
their many lies, for some elusive quality of luminosity in them which 
comes out in their very style, so beautifully clear and supple. My 
mother, for reasons of her own, held Rousseau in the utmost abhorrence 
and, while indicating this to me, volunteered the information that he 
had been bom with his blood boiling. It was an observation that greatly 
intrigued me, and, not understanding at all what my mother was getting 
at, I tried to imagine someone with his blood on the boil, bubbling and 
steaming like a saucepan of porridge. I was so preoccupied with this 
that I failed to follow my mother’s subsequent remarks, and only 
picked up the thread when she was saying that she would rather see me, 
as she put it, dead at her feet than doing something or other -what I 
had no sort of an idea. It is a curious thing that though, as far as my 
reading was concerned, I was precocious, delving freely into my father’s 
books, as far as I know, it had absolutely no effect in making me 
sexually precocious. My favourite book at this time, when I was about 
fourteen, was The Three Musketeers. I loved it passionately; it is the 
only book that, in the whole of my life, I have finished reading and then 
at once turned back to page one and begun again. In my edition there 
was a picture of d’Artagnan running away from a meeting with Milady. 
He is wearing only his shirt, but it did not occur to me to wonder why 
he should have taken off his trousers. 

Even so, my mother’s whole maimer, and the lurid phrases she used, 
gave me the feeling that something unusual, frightening and in some way 
exciting was at issue. Without actually complaining about my father, I 
felt that somehow she was pointing an accusing finger at him. Once she 
said to me darkly that she hoped I would never know what she had had 
to put up with. On Sunday mornings, when my father was usually at 
home and, if the weather was suitable, working in the garden, this 
vaguely accusatory manner was liable to take a more concrete form. In 
a house at the back of ours, and overlooking our garden, there was a 
small attic window in which, my mother had managed to convince 
herself, a maid-servant would sit exposing herself or otherwise sending 
my father erotic signals. It was a preposterous notion, but so real to her 
that she would flit in a kind of frenzy from window to window in our 
house, peering out from behind the curtains and trying to catch a 
glimpse of the offending siren; my father, meanwhile, going on calmly 
planting his potatoes or hoeing between the rows of his spring onions. 



36 The Green Stick 

My mother’s expression on these occasions seemed to be quite horrify- 
ing; enflamed and enraged and somehow animal. It was my first glimpse 
of authentic evil, and - as always happens with evil - infected me, evil 
being the most infectious, and even contagious, of all sicknesses. I 
found myself likewise peering up at the attic window and imagining I 
saw there an obscenely smiling face, and two pendulous breasts hanging 
down like Christmas turkeys to attract my father’s gaze. The only 
comparable incident that I have come across in contemporary fiction 
occurs in a novel by Iris Murdoch in which the heroine likewise mutely 
displays her breasts. If my mother had written a novel, it would, I 
fancy, have been in rather the same vein as Miss Murdoch’s. 

The undercurrent of suspicion running through my mother’s mind 
frequently led to rows. My father would explode, shout with sarcastic 
rage: ‘Take care, the servants are lookingl* and go out, violently slam- 
ming the front door behind him. I dreaded these outbursts, and one of 
the reasons I would sit up with my mother waiting for my father’s return 
was that I thought my presence would serve to mitigate any trouble 
that might arise. Even if I did go to bed, more often than not I lay awake 
waiting to hear his key in the lock, straining to catch the sound of their 
voices, to make sure they were not raised, infinitely relieved when I 
heard them putting out the lights and climbing upstairs to bed; one 
more day gone by. The precise nuances of feeling and sense of depri- 
vation behind these rows I, of course, had no means of knowing, and 
should not have understood if I had known. Perhaps if my parents had 
been rich and more attuned to the moral dissolution of the times, they 
might have parted and sought other partners. I doubt if they would have 
gained thereby, and we children would certainly have lost.They stayed 
together for our sake; in any case, they were too conscientious about 
their financial responsibilities for others, to be in a position to do other- 
wise. Something for which I honour them. When I think of their com- 
panionship in old age, their interminable games of two-handed bridge, 
how utterly lost they would have been without one another when the 
Blitz made them homeless in their seventies, I marvel anew at the 
extraordinary strength of this bizarre institution of monogamous mar- 
riage, which goes on surviving despite the furious attacks directed 
against it and its own intrinsic disabilities. 

Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge, my mother’s suspicions 
about my father were quite without foundation. There was nothing he 
ever said to me (and we were at times exceedingly frank with one 
another; more so than our disparity in years might seem to permit) or 



A Socialist Upbringing 37 

in his papers to suggest the contrary. Also, as I had occasion to see for 
myself when I was still quite young, he was singularly naive in sexual 
matters for a man of his years and experience. It happened that we 
found ourselves in the spring of 1927 in Paris together. I had just come 
back from India, he having met me in Naples. It was a wonderful thing 
to find my father standing there on the quay when my boat came into 
Naples Harbour - my first sight of it - at dawn; his bowler hat on his 
head, and that look about him that I knew and loved so well, of expec- 
tancy, a boyish conviction that something wonderful was going to 
happen. We travelled to Paris, stopping off at Rome for two or three 
days. In Paris we ran into someone my father knew - some sort of a 
progressive travel-agent, Welsh, I fancy, with a dark chin, who asked 
us out for an evening to see the sights. It involved going to various 
brothels and lewd or blasphemous spectacles arranged for tourists. I 
imagine they have all long ago shut down now that rather inferior 
versions of the same shows are to be seen in the West End, but then they 
were in full swing. At one of them, when we entered, girls with nothing 
on except diaphanous scarves and high-heeled shoes came and perched 
on our knees, ordered expensive drinks, and when we left tried to haggle 
over the tips we gave them. Here our progressive travel-agent was useful, 
and soon shut them up. What preoccupied my father afterwards as we 
strolled down the Champs Elysees under the stars on our way back to 
our hotel - the Francois ier - was that when he gave his girl a pound 
she put it in her shoe, though, as I pointed out, actually she had nowhere 
else to put it. Nonetheless, he continued to mutter to himself: ‘She put 
it in her shoe!’ as though there were any number of possible alternatives. 
The next day, rather shamefacedly, he asked me whether it had been 
my first visit to places of that kind. I assured him - not quite truthfully - 
that I was, if not an habitui , at any rate quite accustomed to them, 
whereupon he cheered up. Whether or not our behaviour would have 
come into the category my mother had in mind when she said she 
would sooner see me dead at her feet than guilty of it, I never knew. 
Nothing would have induced me to breathe a word to her about our 
spree. 

My father’s unfamiliarity with the brothel scene was the more sur- 
prising because prostitutes and prostitution played a big part in our 
Leftist mythology, providing us with a classic case of exploitation; of 
the power of money in a capitalist society to override normal human 
feelings, and even animal instincts. Resurrection was one of our classics - 
among the very best; and again Blake gave us the motsjustes in his lines 



38 The Green Stick 

about the harlot’s cry from street to street weaving old England’s wind- 
ing sheet. They call them filles de joies in Paris, my father would say 
sarcastically, almost spitting out the words, and he liked telling a story 
about a man who was advised by his doctor to have a woman for health 
reasons. ‘Then may I have your daughter?’ the man says. When the 
doctor expostulates, he goes on: ‘It has to be somebody’s daughter, 
hasn’t it?* My father delivered this pay-off line with great verve, in a 
tone of voice he reserved for famous retorts; for instance - also a great 
favourite - Voltaire’s ‘ Je ne vois pas la nicessitL' It is rather sad to reflect 
that the prostitute has gone the way of so much of our old Leftist 
mythology; driven out of circulation by ardent amateurs, as the arma- 
ment manufacturer, or merchant of death - another great standby - has 
been superseded by ardent governments eager to flog their weapons, 
and the arrogant landowner by the arrogant bureaucrat. 

What, I think, worried my mother more than any suspicion that my 
father was engaged in illicit amours was the notion of free love, then 
very current among Socialists, especially young middle-class ones. She 
disapproved of this strongly, and did not hesitate to say so when the 
subject came up, whereas my father and his friends, though most of 
them extremely respectable in their own lives, felt bound to accord the 
notion a faint gesture of sympathy. H. G. Wells in his autobiography 
describes making the discovery - almost with the excitement of an 
Archimedes - that it was possible to sleep with young progressive girls 
of good family without having to pay or, as was then the case, running 
any appreciable risk of catching venereal disease. Even the danger of 
pregnancy was reduced, in the sense that their families were perfectly 
capable of paying for an abortion, or, in the event of a baby being bom, 
disposing of the bastard. For a time I belonged to the 1917 Club, 
founded to commemorate the Russian Revolution, and the scene, very 
appropriately, of Ramsay MacDonald’s first public appearance as 
Labour Prime Minister in 1924, when he was greeted by a female of 
the locality as her Yorkshire Boy. In its somewhat dingy premises in 
Gerrard Street, well-spoken, good-looking girls up from the Home 
Counties or farther afield, who had become convinced by the New 
Statesman , or maybe some itinerant university extension lecturer, that 
they had nothing to lose but their virginity, were much in evidence. I 
once asked one of them who had fallen briefly into the hands of Wells 
how the first approach had been made. It was at a party, she told me, 
and after some preliminary conversation, Wells had whispered to her: 
‘Shall we go upstairs and do funny things with our bodies?’ I asked her 



A Socialist Upbringing 39 

whether the things they did had turned out to be funny. ‘Not particu- 
larly,’ she said. 

Anything like this was, of course, infinitely remote from our suburban 
milieu, but even so the notion was abroad, and my mother had picked 
up a tiny bat-squeak of it among the Socialist faithful in Croydon; 
sensing a menace in it, hanging primarily over my father, but also to a 
lesser extent over my brothers and myself. About the siren in the attic 
window I had heard her mutter splenetically: ‘Man-madI’ How much 
more, then, some charming infants-school teacher, crammed full of 
Ann Veronica and Havelock Ellis, not to mention Marie Stopes. The 
whole thing was crystallised, as far as my mother was concerned, by the 
Colony, a Tolstoyan settlement in the Cotswolds started by Socialists 
from Croydon with whom we maintained connections. They made no 
bones about it, but lived openly with one another, unmarried, and, in 
principle at any rate, when they felt like it, changing their partners. 
They also, incidentally, eschewed private property and the use of money, 
held their goods in common, and otherwise detached themselves from 
contemporary usages -all points about which my mother’s feelings 
were tepid compared with her attitude to their sexual mores which, she 
considered, put them in the class of Sodom and Gomorrah, if not well 
below it. 

As it happened, I got to know the Colony rather well, having been 
boarded out near it when I developed vague T.B. symptoms and, on 
medical advice, was sent into the country for a spell. In view of his 
family history, my father was naturally hyper-sensitive about anything 
of the kind. I doubt if I was particularly ill, but I just remember 
coughing rather a lot and feeling inordinately tired, as I still do from 
time to time. As for the possibility that I might prove to be tubercular - 
something that I dimly understood - it both frightened and fascinated 
me. After all, Keats suffered from this complaint, which might be 
regarded as among the more interesting ones. At the same time, I had a 
vivid awareness, gathered from having seen relatives of my father in the 
last stages of T.B., of what it was like; the high colour concentrated 
round the cheek-bone, the abnormally lurid eyes, the sputum that 
had to be kept for subsequent examination, the transparent skin with 
fever just under the surface - like a furnace seen through a plate-glass 
window. 

I loved my time in the country, from the moment Miss Lidiard met 
me with a pony and trap at Stroud Station, and we trotted along to the 
delightful old cottage in the village of Sheepscombe where she lived 



40 The Green Stick 

with her mother. The house made me think of David Copperfield's 
home before his father died, and I decided to be David there. Like, I 
suppose, most children, I often took the parts of characters I admired. 
I can remember going about for days on end as d'Artagnan, and then as 
Tom Sawyer - though, oddly enough, not as Huckleberry Finn, even 
though I admired him more than Tom. I suppose I just didn't want to 
be him. There was a large damson tree in Miss Lidiard's garden, loaded 
with fruit, and in the capacity of David, despite her protests below, I 
climbed to the very highest branches, and stripped them. 

It was part of the arrangement at Sheepscombe that Miss Lidiard 
should give me some lessons. These went ill, and she occasionally 
chastised me with a cane, though I can't recall that it caused me more 
than passing discomfort, or any appreciable psychological distress. I 
was, I fear, an almost unteachable child, the reason being that I never 
had -or for that matter have -the slightest interest in the subjects 
taught at school and university, with the possible exception of scripture. 
Algebra, geography, physics, history even - 1 never wanted to learn 
about such subjects any more than to listen to some boring guide telling 
me about the Parthenon or the Sistine Chapel. As for English, the one 
subject I did care about - just because I so cared about it the maunder- 
ings of teachers, up to and including university ones, were somehow 
irrelevant. Poor Miss Lidiard! She tried her hand at arithmetic, spelling 
and the rivers and promontories of England without any appreciable 
success. 

From time to time Miss Lidiard took me to visit the Colony, which 
was only a mile or so away. She was a gentle, reserved and rather severe 
lady who certainly did not approve of the Colony's ways and ideas. Her 
connection with it came about through Will Straughan, my father’s 
closest friend, whom she subsequently married. Indeed, it was he who 
arranged for me to go to Sheepscombe. Various of his relatives had 
joined the Colony, and though he personally took a derisory view of 
everything to do with it, he continued to keep in touch with them. 
He was a truly enchanting human being; gentle, humorous, quixotically 
generous, original; somehow giving a vague impression of sadness, and 
yet indissolubly associated in my mind with laughter. I count such men 
among life’s major blessings; as well as implying a strong hint of better 
things to come. If it is possible thus to live kindly and companionably 
and cheerfully in the world without any elevated mystical or philo- 
sophical insight to buoy one up; without fasting in the wilderness, or 



A Socialist Upbringing 41 

being nailed to a cross, or speaking with tongues; just as a mortal man 
with other mortal men - to use Falstaff ’s blessed expression; why, then, 
surely our poor benighted human race will never wholly succumb to 
the follies and brutalities to which we often appear to be inexorably 
given. However deep the darkness, these small steady lamps continue 
to shine, bringing great solace. 

Will Straughan’s marriage to Miss Lidiard was a great success, 
though childless, she being, I should suppose, too old to conceive. The 
occasion of their nuptials remains fixed in my mind because of a remark 
my mother made, and the sharp retort it brought her from her mother, 
who was staying with us at the time. She said something to the effect 
that Will, after his long bachelor years, might be somewhat at a loss 
on his bridal night. ‘Don’t be a fool, Anniel’ her mother sharply re- 
torted. This maternal grandmother, left a widow shortly after my 
parents married, used to come down from Sheffield - whence nothing 
would dislodge her permanently - to look after us when my father took 
my mother away on holiday, which he did every year, usually abroad. 
Jaunts that he loved, and refused to economise over. We enjoyed our 
grandmother’s regime, though it was more severe than her daughter’s. 
She was a tiny, energetic lady who still wore a cap indoors, and bustled 
about the house, washing, brushing, polishing, cooking. For her weekly 
bread-making session, she put on a pair of white sleeves, and pummelled 
the dough with great zest. We were allowed to take the crisp overflow 
of the baking pans. I occasionally ran into trouble, as I had with Miss 
Lidiard, over answering back; an offence which has brought me rebukes 
and chastisement, both public and private, all my life. Once, I remem- 
ber, when I had been disparaging the story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den, 
she shut me up by remarking with great emphasis: ‘If Daniel isn’t true, 
nothing is.’ I revisited Sheepscombe some years ago for the first time 
since I had been there as a child. In the churchyard I found the graves 
of Will Straughan and his wife, but the damson tree seemed to have 
disappeared. 

Whatever Miss Lidiard might feel about our visits to the Colony, I 
looked forward to them enormously. The place was not much to look 
at -just a group of wooden huts, with a larger one for communal 
gatherings; but I vaguely detected something exciting, stimulating, in 
the air. The Colony had been started in the first years of this century, 
largely in response to Tolstoy’s ideas. A party set out from Croydon on 
their bicycles, with only very little money and no agricultural experience, 
with the idea of settling on the land, producing all their own necessities, 



42 The Green Stick 

and so being able to detach themselves wholly from the wicked ways 
and pursuits of the society around them. It was a truly heroic enterprise; 
the more so as most of the participants were clerks and schoolmasters 
and shop assistants, with absolutely no experience of fending for them- 
selves under primitive conditions. Like Brigham Young when he first 
caught a glimpse of the Great Salt Lake in what is now Utah, they saw 
some fifty acres of rough land in the Cotswolds, and said: This is the 
place! The land was cheap in those days, and they acquired it by 
purchase; then, to demonstrate their abhorrence of the institution of 
property, ceremonially burnt the title deeds. It must have been a 
touching scene - the bonfire, the documents consigned to the flames, 
their exalted sentiments. Unfortunately a neighbouring farmer heard 
of their noble gesture and began to encroach on their land. To have 
resorted to the police, even if it had been practicable, was unthinkable. 
So, after much deliberation, they decided to use physical force to expel 
the intruder; which they did on the basis of a theory of detached action, 
whereby it is permissible to infringe a principle for the purpose of a 
single isolated act without thereby invalidating it. The intruding farmer 
was, in fact, thrown over the hedge in the presence of the assembled 
Colonists. 

There were many such tragi-comic incidents in the years that 
followed; as well as quarrels, departures, jealousies, betrayals and 
domestic upsets. In the end, the Colonists found it necessary to re- 
establish their title to the land by means of squatters* rights, and then 
proceeded to bicker amongst themselves as to who should have which 
portion. Free love did not preclude the troubles of matrimony; men 
still tired of ageing mates and turned to younger ones. Nor did the 
deserted resent their abandonment any the less because they had not 
been shackled in the chains of matrimony. To-day, I suppose, the 
Colony would be called a Commune, but essentially the same hopes and 
desires are entertained, with the same disappointments and disillusion- 
ments lying ahead. It is a minor vexation of growing old that what 
seems novel and audacious to the young is stale and already discredited 
in the light of one’s own experience. 

I wandered about the Colony a year or so ago, noting how the roof 
of the communal meeting-place was leaking, and how weeds obscured 
its windows. How some of the huts were derelict and abandoned, and 
others that were occupied had an air of being poor and ill-tended. How 
the few Colonists who were still there seemed mostly old and dispirited. 
Back into remotest times, I reflected, this notion has existed of a Utopia, 



A Socialist Upbringing 43 

a kingdom of heaven on earth f or heavenly city; of a little perfect 
community existing within the larger imperfect one of human society; 
from time to time finding expression, always disastrously. History is 
littered with the debris of extinct Colonies and Communes. The early 
Christians were fortunate enough to be saved from taking any such 
disastrous course since they enjoyed the inestimable advantage of 
believing that the millennium was near, which precluded them from 
seeking to establish a beneficent regime in this world. In the time at 
their disposal it was just not worth while. Perhaps the best hope of 
reviving the Christian religion would be to convince the Pope, the 
Archbishop of Canterbury and other dignitaries likewise that the world 
will shortly be coming to an end. A difficult undertaking, l fear, not- 
withstanding much evidence pointing that way. 

When Miss Lidiard and I visited the Colony it was still in reasonably 
good shape. The leading figure among the Colonists at the time was a 
Czech philosopher, Francis Sedlac, who had come to the Colony 
originally as a fugitive from Austrian military service, and was held in 
great respect. Few of the Colonists could understand his philosophy, 
but all were prepared to esteem it. He was a tall, bearded man of 
decidedly imposing appearance - so much so, the Colonists would tell 
one with great pride, that he had once been offered the part of Christ in 
a Hollywood production of the Gospel story. As they did not think 
much of the traditional Christ, and Hollywood represented everything 
they considered most abhorrent, the pride they took in this offer was a 
little difficult to understand. Sedlac, in any case, rejected the offer. I 
was allowed to peep in at the great man where he sat, as I thought, 
playing with coloured bricks. Actually, as it turned out, he was working 
at his philosophy, which was based on geometrical premises. Hia 
consort at that time was a certain Nelly Shaw, an old friend of my 
father who occasionally visited us in Croydon. Before his marriage, my 
father and Nelly, we were given to understand, had gone bicycling 
together, when she had scandalised the neighbourhood by being one of 
the first ladies to appear in public in bloomers. She might be regarded, 
I suppose, as a forerunner of the Women's Lib movement to-day; with 
a harsh, resonant voice, a plump, clumsy body, and a face full of 
irregularities: tufts of hair, moles, pits and protuberances, the whole 
impression not appreciably improved by a string of large red beads 
that she invariably wore tightly round her neck. If my mother nourished 
any suspicions about her, they were, I am confident, misplaced. 

The Colonists were, of course, pacifists to a man and a woman, and 



44 The Green Stick 

Sedlac, as one who had faced persecution and exile rather than take up 
arms, was a hero in their eyes. Rather in the same sort of way as their 
like to-day are concerned about money invested in South Africa, they 
were exercised as to whether or not the communal funds they had 
accumulated should be invested in government securities, which one 
of them - actually, Will Straughan's sister - said would be tantamount 
to ‘dipping it in the blood*. Sedlac, too, as a dedicated anarchist, was 
strongly opposed to having any truck with Treasury bonds, which he 
regarded with abhorrence. Altogether, he looked with disfavour on the 
Colony's growing prosperity, though contributing to it in a sense, as 
being one of the sights of the place which brought coach-loads of 
curious visitors from the surrounding neighbourhood to stare and buy 
cakes and wholemeal bread at the Colony's bakery. I was interested to 
find that picture postcards are still on sale in Stroud of the Colony, 
one of them being of Sedlac as a typical Colonist. He appears as a kind 
of agnostic Ecce Homo; in the style of Edward Carpenter, Walt Whit- 
man, and all the other prophets of wind on the heath, up to and in- 
cluding the most distracted of them all - D. H. Lawrence. The other 
attraction which brought in local sightseers was the reputed nude 
bathing which took place at the Colony. There was, in fact, a small pool 
fed by a spring in which on warm days the Colonists were liable to 
disport themselves. Most of them, male and female alike, seemed to my 
childhood eyes more curious than alluring in their state of nakedness, 
but there were two young girls with the first bloom of adolescence upon 
them who caught my attention with a stab of excitement. It was my 
first intimation of sex, and without conscious deliberation I decided to 
keep it to myself. The incident must have impressed me, since I remem- 
ber the names, admittedly bizarre, of the two girls in question - Elfie 
and Doddles. 

In the Colony’s early days, when the prohibition of the use of money 
was rigorously observed, Sedlac decided that the only way he could be 
sure of the safe delivery of an article he had written for a learned 
philosophical magazine was to take it himself to London where the 
magazine was published. He might, it is true, have followed the practice 
of some of the Colonists and put the article in the post without a stamp 
in the expectation that the recipient would meet the postage due. This 
practice greatly exasperated my father when he was the victim of it, 
though, loudly protesting, he would always pay up and accept the letter 
or package. Sedlac was above such devices and, bare-footed, with his 
article in his knapsack, and no money in his pocket, he set out for 



A Socialist Upbringing 45 

London. It was mid-winter, and soon he ran into a bad snowstorm. 
By the time he had covered some thirty miles he was at the end of his 
strength - which was considerable; he was a tall man, rather the build 
of Bernard Shaw, whose appearance he perhaps copied more closely 
than that of Christ. What to do? He had reached a small village and 
decided to apply to the vicarage there for food and shelter. The vicar, 
a kindly man, sympathising with Sedlac’s situation, offered him some 
money, which, however, Sedlac explained, he could not accept -not 
because it would be charity, but because he would no more possess or 
use money than he would heroin or any other destructive substance. 
For years the notion of this dialogue fascinated me, and I tried several 
times to reconstruct it, with Sedlac, like Lear, abandoned and alone 
in a stormy world where his logic was unacceptable. I saw it as a 
confrontation, like Dostoevsky’s between the Grand Inquisitor and the 
returned Saviour, between the vicar and the Colonist, between the 
authoritarian and the anarchist; as the eternal dialogue that began when 
Adam, hand in hand with Eve, walked out of Paradise, and, looking 
back, saw the flaming sword barring his return. Likewise, mounted in 
the desert two thousand years ago, when the Devil, with the kingdoms 
of the earth in his gift, offered them to Christ, who rejected them, 
leaving His followers to be displaced persons for ever. I was so interested 
in the dialogue that I forgot to find out what happened to Sedlac, and 
whether his article ever reached its destination. No doubt Nelly Shaw 
arrived on the scene, reassuring in her red beads, and baled him out, 
explaining matters to the vicar in terms that were comprehensible to 
him. 

Sedlac and Nelly are, of course, long since dead, as, I should suppose, 
are all the first-generation Colonists. I found a number of them, 
including Sedlac and Nelly, in the Minchinhampton churchyard, 
where an area well apart from the other dead has been allotted to them. 
Sedlac is described on his stone as an Hegelian, as though this might 
somehow bring him more into line with the susceptibilities of the 
Anglican authorities and the local worthies among whom he lies. It is a 
strange last resting-place for them. In the early days of the Colony the 
then Minchinhampton incumbent was particularly incensed against 
the Colonists for their atheism, their curious attire (at one point, some 
of them affected ancient Greek costume) and, above all, their attitude 
to the marriage tie. Especially in England, time softens everything; I 
have always thought that if Wilde had lived into his eighties he would 
probably have been made an honorary Commissioner of Scouts. Will 



46 The Green Stick 

the Californian Communards all likewise find their way at last to 
Forest Lawn? It would not surprise me. 

When I returned home from Sheepscombe the family had moved into 
a new house in South Croydon, built in accordance with my father’s 
specifications. It was semi-detached, the original intention being that 
Will Straughan should live in the other half. Alas, his financial circum- 
stances took a turn for the worse at this time, and he had to remain in 
Sanderstead. As I learnt afterwards, he characteristically impoverished 
himself in order to keep a shipping business in Leadenhall Street going 
rather than sack the employees. Our house had one large combined 
sitting- and dining-room on the ground floor, with a study for my 
father in which he had a roll-top desk that I greatly admired. French 
windows looked out on the garden and, inevitably, were fated to play a 
role in my mother’s operations against lickerish domestics in neighbour- 
ing houses. There was one new piece of furniture which dominated the 
sitting-room - a sort of old-fashioned divan with a narrow seat and tall 
back, covered in red damask. It had, in fact, been in the snuggery of a 
country pub, and became known to us all as the cosy comer. Nothing 
could have been less appropriate in our semi-detached suburban house, 
or more typical of my father. I always sat in it when I could, exchanged 
my first amorous kiss on it, and found it a perfect lurking-place to avoid 
being noticed or sent to bed when my father and his friends were 
plotting the overthrow of the capitalist system. My mother disliked it 
very much, and strongly protested when it first made its appearance. 
She was out of sympathy with these occasional romantic flights my 
father indulged in. Thus, on their silver wedding anniversary he 
proudly appeared with a huge silver fruit salver, called, according to 
him, an ipergne , that he had bought in some second-hand shop. It was 
made in the shape of a naked boy - presumably Cupid - offering a 
plate of fruit; a majestic object, acquired, I imagine, from a restaurant 
when it went bankrupt. I saw my mother’s face fall, and as it fell all the 
steam went out of my father. It was heartbreaking. I wanted to say how 
I admired the salver, how it was something needed in our household, 
but I knew it was no good. I just kept quiet. My father told me after- 
wards that in the night he had awakened to hear my mother quietly 
crying, and had thereupon opened a bottle of champagne procured for 
the silver wedding occasion, in which they had toasted one another. 
The next day my father turned in his tpergne and, at my mother’s 
request, got instead a cutlery chest. 



A Socialist Upbringing 

My father’s sessions with his friends took place on Saturday evenings. 
They would assemble after supper, Scotch and water was provided, 
and they would talk far into the night. My mother soon dozed off in 
her folding chair, and I, lying low in the cosy comer, with a bit of luck 
might survive until ten or ten-thirty. Even in my bed I still strained my 
ears to catch what they were saying, and shared in their laughter when 
it came rolling up to me. They were a bizarre company of conspirators; 
I doubt whether, if the Lord Chief Justice or the Home Secretary had 
been able to listen in to them, he would have been seriously perturbed. 
Yet, ostensibly at any rate, their conspiracy has succeeded sooner and 
more efficaciously than they would have dared to hope. They looked like, 
and indeed were, a collection of typical lower-middle-class clerks, 
decently dressed, obviously thriving, and, anyone would think just 
from looking at them, Tory voters to a man. 

Will Straughan was a regular attender, bringing his wife with him, 
who also was a non-participant in the conversation, though she did not, 
like my mother, doze off. He was not nearly as politically inclined as my 
father, and but for him would probably not have bothered much with 
politics at all. I remember how once, when Northcliffe was mentioned, 
he tied a piece of string round one of his fingers and drew it tight, like a 
man being hanged. Then there was Mr Jordan, my father’s tailor, and 
mine when I went to Cambridge. His suits were solid rather than stylish; 
and he got involved in an intrigue with the girl in his shop, all the details 
of which were familiar to me because I heard them being recounted in a 
dramatic whisper by Mrs Jordan to my mother. While he was measuring 
me up, and the girl was taking down the measurements, I eyed her 
appraisingly, but without detecting in her the qualities which had so 
enflamed Mr Jordan. Mr Patterson, another regular attender, was a 
Scotsman with a sandy moustache and a gold watch that he kept in a 
little leather bag, carefully taking it out when he wanted to know the 
time, and then as carefully putting it back into its bag. In the same 
methodical manner he filled and lit his pipe, blowing out the smoke in 
rhythmic gusts through his sandy moustache. He was an accountant 
who subsequently became a company director and rich. There were 
others who came occasionally, all of the same type - men of humble 
origins who were making their way in the world and wanted the world’s 
ways to be changed. They were not in any real sense revolutionaries; 
rather, they planned to take over the existing social and economic 
system and run it better and more equitably. Their arguments seemed 
to me irrefutable, their hopes for the future impeccable. Instead of lots 



48 The Green Stick 

of milkcart9 coming each day to each little street, there would be one; 
instead of money being squandered on battleships (Tm interested in 
ships too/ was another of my father's open-air gambits: ‘Hardships!'), 
it would be used for schools, hospitals, garden suburbs, and so on. 
Instead of railways, coalmines and industry generally being privately 
owned and enriching the few, they would be publicly owned and enrich 
us all. Listening to them in our little sitting-room seated on the cosy 
comer, I saw a rosy future before us if only my father and his henchmen 
would take over the country. Actually, I lived to see them - though 
not in their own persons - take over, but the rosy future continues to be 
elusive. 

Though I did not notice it at the time, a notable absentee at these 
gatherings was the beneficiary of all our endeavour. I mean the worker, 
or, as we still called him, workman. (The change from ‘workman' to 
‘worker' was as significant, semantically, as from ‘master' to ‘boss', or 
from ‘the people' to ‘the masses'.) It is true that among my father's 
growing number of visitors there would occasionally be one of whom 
my mother would say he was a workman, meaning by this, quite specifi- 
cally, that he did not wear a bowler hat and a winged starched collar 
like my father, or polished boots, or cuff-links, or an overcoat with a 
velvet collar. He generally turned out, however, to be some special kind 
of worker, like a school caretaker or a road foreman. At Ruskin House, 
too, the headquarters of the local Labour Party, there were vaguely 
proletarian figures to be seen, but many more teachers and Quakers 
and ladies with private means who had been forcibly fed in suffragette 
days. Trotsky, in his History of the Russian Revolution, tells how a 
mouzhik was included in the Bolshevik delegation to Brest Litovsk. In 
his sheepskin coat and felt boots he was the admiration of all beholders, 
until one day, having taken a drop too much vodka, he actually started 
addressing the peace negotiators. Then he was speedily shut up. A 
worker is someone for whom everything is done as long as he keeps 
off stage; trade union leaders or shop stewards may have long speaking 
parts, but workers are for ever extras. Once, when I was conducting a 
television discussion on strikes, I asked for a worker to come on the 
programme. Our scouts searched far and wide, and at one point reported 
that they had found one in the neighbourhood of the Oval who would 
agree to appear. He turned out to be black and, in any case, failed to 
turn up. So we had to make do with the usual collection of notabilities 
from the nationalised industries and Transport House, topped up by a 
smattering of industrialists, civil servants, sociology dons, business 



A Socialist Upbringing 49 

efficiency experts, MPs, Hungarian economists, and a shop steward or 
two with King Street affiliations. Thus, in accordance with the BBC's 
Charter, all sides were represented. 

Though we had little or no contact with workers, we were, as it 
happened, vouchsafed an occasional glimpse of the prospective Labour 
Party Front Bench. This was because when any of them came to Croydon 
to speak or lecture (which happened fairly often because of Croydon’s 
nearness to London), my father usually took the chair and invited them 
home for hospitality. As a child, I saw both Ramsay MacDonald and 
Snowden; Hugh Dalton and J. R. Clynes came for a meal, and there 
were numerous other lesser Fabian lights who visited us in this way 
and cropped up subsequently as under-secretaries and ministers without 
portfolio. My mother treated these occasions as she might have done a 
visit from the Gadsbys; got out her best silver and crockery, and put us 
all into our best clothes. My father was inclined to be surly, and I, as 
usual, taking my cue from him, also affected to regard the fuss made 
as foolish and unnecessary. The thing that struck me about our visitors 
was their enormous condescension; they felt themselves already so near 
the seats of authority that they had begun cultivating the appropriate 
style. 

This was particularly true of MacDonald, who shook hands by 
extending two fingers, made conversation by asking fatuous questions, 
and engaged in little playfulnesses almost like royalty. He was still 
relatively coherent, but the verbal circumlocution which was to make 
his last public utterances totally incomprehensible had already begun 
to gain on him. I can remember him holding forth about reading and 
taking country rambles -two activities to which, ostensibly, he was 
much given - and the words all getting mixed up into something like 
‘wandering and rambling to be alone in my library*. His picturesque 
appearance; the loosely tied coloured tie, the tweed suit, the carefully 
dishevelled grey hair, the sonorous Scottish voice with the R’s rolling 
and rumbling like thunder - all produced what would be called nowadays 
a good image. My father in principle detested him, but in practice was 
rather proud of him as billed to be the first Labour Prime Minister, 
and at one time contributed a small sum weekly to his support, Members 
of Parliament in those days not being paid. Afterwards he considered it 
as money very ill-spent; worse than dipping it in the blood. In little 
more than a decade after MacDonald’s appearance in our Croydon 
sitting-room, he was acting as co-host with Lady Londonderry at a 
Londonderry House reception - far less time than it took for the 

C.W.T. — D 



50 The Green Stick 

Colonists to make their peace with the Vicar of Minchinhampton and 
qualify for admission to his churchyard. Though MacDonald was, on 
any showing, a derisory figure, I am inclined to think now that he was 
perfectly cast as the first Labour Prime Minister; with all the right 
attitudes and responses - the capacity at a moment’s notice to break 
into a discourse about the peace of the worrrld; the reassurance he 
provided to the middle and upper classes that any fears they might 
have entertained that he seriously intended to take their money or 
dissolve their Empire were quite groundless; his translation from the 
poor boy in Lossiemouth to the Prime Minister in Downing Street. It 
all added up, I cannot help thinking, to what we actually wanted in 
Ruskin House, and we got it. The really terrible thing about life is not 
that our dreams are unrealised but that they come true. 

Our Fabian visitors were more sympathetic to my father; careless, 
untidy, pipe-smoking men; ladies whose bosoms floated loose instead 
of being laced up like my mother’s, and whose hair was piled upwards 
like an overcharged haystack instead of being tightly curled like hers. 
They were, in my father’s sense, cultured; had been to the university, 
mostly Oxford or Cambridge; had contributed to the review columns 
of the New Statesman and the Nation (then still separate), and maybe 
written books; called Lytton Strachey ‘Lytton’, and Keynes ‘Maynard*, 
and Shaw ‘G.B.S.’ They represented everything my father most ad- 
mired; had effortlessly acquired what he so desperately sought. They 
were what he wanted to be. Those hours at City libraries when he should 
have been eating or playing; the poring over French irregular verbs in 
order to be able to have a come-back if someone on the Croydon Council 
(an unlikely enough eventuality, I must say) quoted a Latin tag at 
him! - none of that for them. They were at ease in a world from which 
he felt he had been excluded, and which therefore seemed the more 
alluring - what he saw as the world of culture. How was he to know 
that this culture, for which he had an almost mystical veneration, was 
dying, if not already dead? That a neo-Stone Age rather than a neo- 
Fabian one lay ahead? 

My father’s working day lay between the 8.05 from Croydon East 
to London Bridge, and the 6.05 from London Bridge to Croydon East. 
The morning tide took him City-wards, the evening one brought him 
Croydon-wards. He boasted, justifiably, that he knew the track so well 
that he could tell from the sound of the train’s wheels precisely where 
he was. I quite often accompanied him to the station; up the steep hill 
to the Recreation Ground, by the Water Tower (the tower that, for me, 



A Socialist Upbringing 51 

was the dark one Chllde Roland came to); on past the little open-air 
stage and auditorium where the concert-party performed on summers’ 
evenings (Kevin Billington in his magical way unearthed some survivors 
for a film he made about my childhood; creaking, groaning, a bit stiff 
on the lock-step, they were still able to give a suitably soulful rendering 
of Tm for ever blowing bubbles/Pretty bubbles in the air*); then the 
last stretch to the station with my father looking anxiously at his watch. 
Good-bye at the barrier, waving; he joining the throng down the slope 
to the platform, where I could just see him; then off to London Bridge. 
Over the Bridge, all of them stepping out; like a mighty army going as 
to work; most of them bowler-hatted, few girls in those days. Then dis- 
persing, he to New Basinghall Street, and his high stool and his ledger. 
Quite often I was waiting at the barrier on his return. Train after train 
coming in, and a foolish dread seizing me that perhaps he never would 
come - anxiously scanning the faces as they came up the slope and went 
past the ticket collector. At last, there he was; always in the first batch, 
well to the fore, striding along. Only in the very last years of his time 
in the City did he allow himself the indulgence of a first-class season, 
and marched in a dignified way with the rear echelon. How delighted I 
was to see him! How overjoyed! Apart from one or two other rare oc- 
casions, there is no face except Kitty’s I have ever picked out with such 
joyous relief as his, leading the field up the slope from the arrival plat- 
form at Croydon East. 

From the station I quite often accompanied him to the Town Hall; 
down George Street and round past the fire station into Catherine 
Street. There was a time when I thought of the Croydon Town Hall 
as a kind of Duomo or Villa Borghese. Some grain of esteem for it 
must have survived, for I found myself vaguely regretful when I heard 
that there was a plan to demolish it and build a skyscraper on the site. 
As a special treat I was occasionally allowed to sit in the public gallery 
during a meeting of the Borough Council, where I followed the proceed- 
ings with breathless interest; especially, of course, when my father 
spoke, as he usually managed to do when I was present. For some years 
he was the only Labour councillor, which gave me a tremendous sense 
of the odds he was taking on in attacking the citadel of capitalism. I saw 
the Mayor in his red gown, the Town Clerk in his wig and black gown, 
the serried ranks of aldermen and councillors, as the hosts of the 
Philistines, and my father as David with his sling defying them. Politics 
for us consisted of this unequal combat, which nonetheless our side 
was destined to win. We licked down envelopes almost in our prams; 



52 The Green Stick 

VOTE for muggeridge were almost the first three words we learnt 
to recognise. We wore red rosettes; when we were old enough we 
canvassed; we even appeared as a family group in my father’s election 
address, having a family being regarded in those days, before anyone 
had heard of a population explosion, as a sign of civic virtue, especially 
in the case of a Labour candidate who might be associated by his 
opponents with dark reports of the nationalisation of women under the 
Bolsheviks in Russia. 

Elections were for us like saints’ days or festivals. The committee 
room in an empty shop, with trestle tables covered with leaflets; the 
windows darkened with posters; the lady helpers, mostly veterans in 
the cause, with grey untidy hair and cigarettes drooping from their 
mouths, vaguely partaking of the physical excitement which elections 
stir up. The endless cups of tea made on a gas-ring; the badinage with 
the candidate when he drops in; the interminable folding of paper and 
addressing of envelopes. Then the going from door to door as the eve- 
ning comes on, and street lamps are lighted; Sir, Madam, I’m calling 
on behalf of the Labour candidate. Door slammed in your face, maybe; 
or some half-ribald, half-insulting remark of dismissal. Or a ding-dong 
argument - ‘What I say is, they’ve got the money . . In any case, 
something a little furtive, shameful, in the way the steps come to the 
door in answer to one’s knock; then the door opening a crack. Like 
making an indecent proposal - 1 want your vote, I want your body; 
love me! vote for me! Then the meetings in the school classrooms, with 
algebraic formulae, or other educational abracadabra still on the black- 
board. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to-night . . .; the ladies and 
gentlemen not particularly responsive, apart from an occasional planted 
heckler. Finally, the climax: polling day, with hosts of Conservative 
cars, and our occasional Austin Seven. Lurking outside the polling 
stations with an impossible assignment to count the Labour voters; 
he looks like one, she looks like one - excuse me Sir, Madam. Not a 
seduction now, but rather the opposite; making off- Good-bye, it’s 
been wonderful, I’ll never forget, I’ll call you, I’ll . . . Forgetting even 
as the poll is declared. We’re in, hurray! We’re out, never mind, we’ll 
try again. 

This early grounding in electioneering has left me with an abiding 
interest in the pathology of universal suffrage democracy. In strange 
lands, where others might seek out ancient monuments, or folk music, 
or marriage customs, I seek out legislature, and spend enchanted hours 



A Socialist Upbringing 53 

listening to Honourable Members of all races, colours and creeds going 
through the weird and increasingly meaningless rigmarole which West- 
minster has imposed on the rest of the world. The Lok Sabha - what a 
version that is, with non-violent Swamis in their white kadi, their 
spinning-wheels left at home, shouting and shaking their fists at one 
another. Mejlis, Dail, Cortes, Senate and House of Representatives, 
and all through Black Africa, where majority rule prevails and oppo- 
sitions languish in gaol. Dusky faces under judicial wigs; maces where 
studded clubs might be more appropriate; ‘On a point of order/ and 
other such parliamentary plainsong, intoned in Orientalised English, 
with the words racing musically after one another, attributable, I have 
often thought, to the fact that the early teachers of English in these 
lands were often Welsh missionaries. Likewise in the USSR I have 
been fortunate enough to witness the gathering of what English news- 
papers like to call Soviet MPs; observed their rapture as Stalin addressed 
them; watched the supervisory policemen timing their applause when 
he had finished to make sure it reached the regulation seven and a half 
minutes; seen how when a resolution is put to them, each hand is raised 
in perfect unison. This surely the final and sublime apotheosis of majority 
rule, of government of the people for the people by the people, 
which we in our small, inadequate way were trying to operate in 
Croydon. 

My father’s political activities brought us into contact with two 
categories of local residents whom we should probably not otherwise 
have known: Quakers and clergymen. Now that the Labour Party has 
become so integrated with the political, economic and social status quo , 
it may seem strange that a family like ours should, because of our 
Socialist views, have been so isolated in a suburban residential district. 
In the ordinary way we should never have thought of so much as 
nodding to the local vicar, assuming unquestioningly that he must 
disapprove of us as much as we of him. The Quakers were rather 
different; for the most part, they were Liberals and Pacifists, readers of 
the Manchester Guardian with some sympathy for our position, and in 
any case, dedicated rather self-consciously to taking up an ostensibly 
brotherly attitude towards all men, whatever their views, ways and 
circumstances. What in the ordinary way would have separated us from 
the local Quakers would have been simply their affluence. Our ones all 
seemed - and I think were - decidedly rich; and riches are somehow 
more noticeable and forbidding when combined with a self-consciously 
abstemious way of life and awa; eness that love of money is the root of all 



54 The Green Stick 

evil. I think the rich young man who came to Jesus for guidance, and 
was told to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor, must have 
been a Quaker. My mother, I may add - much the most honest member 
of our family - liked Quakers because they were rich. She put them in 
the same category as the Gadsbys, and treated them accordingly. The 
rest of us took a somewhat more equivocal attitude. The Quakers were 
useful, certainly; they had motor-cars, for instance, and provided almost 
the only ones available to us at election time. They would ferry my 
father about from meeting to meeting, and help him out with his 
election expenses. At the same time, behind their backs, we used to 
make sly innuendos about the disparity between their wealth and their 
principles, and how they could scarcely be regarded as following out 
the precept not to lay up treasure on earth. I thought of them when I 
read in Wesley’s Journal his cry of distress about how those he con- 
verted were made thereby industrious, abstemious and honest; virtues 
whose practice inevitably led to their becoming rich, and then, as he 
put it, all the work was to do again. My father was occasionally asked to 
speak at the local Friends’ Meeting House, and I went with him. I 
noticed how his manner of speaking was slightly modified; less ranting 
and rumbustious, with no jokes about the National Debt or anything 
like that. When prayers were on he bowed his head with the others. 
Though he professed himself an atheist, I should not say that he was 
an irreligious man. In Penge he had attended a Baptist Church, though 
more for the ancillary activities like the Literary Society and the Mock 
Parliament than for the worship, I fancy. 

I occasionally visited the Duncan Harrises, a Quaker household quite 
near us. She was a magistrate, a largish woman with a red face and faint 
moustache; full of good works and worthy purposes. He was appreciably 
smaller; a little wizened man with a limp, maybe from polio, who 
appeared rarely; I fancy, some sort of banker. They were obviously 
well off, and I observed with interest how this expressed itself even in 
the austerities of their way of life; the curtains in natural dyes, the bare 
unpolished wooden table, the oatmeal coverings of chairs and divan, 
the handwoven carpets and homespun dress Mrs Duncan Harris 
habitually wore. Wealth, like the kingdom of heaven, is within; one 
senses it, not so much in ostentation and luxury, as in a sort of inner 
gilded complacency. In Mrs Duncan Harris’s case, this complacency 
extended to all her views and endeavour. She was a forerunner of what 
might be called the Good Panellist; a type as characteristic of our time 
as the Good Apprentice was of the Victorian age. As the Good App- 



A Socialist Upbringing 55 

prentice’s virtue met with its reward in personal success, theirs does in 
public esteem. They hold all the right views and espouse all the right 
causes - family-planning clinics, legalisation of abortion, divorce re- 
form, raising the school age, abolition of capital punishment, support 
for the United Nations. I could go on and on listing their virtuous 
attitudes, which call for a contemporary Samuel Smiles to celebrate 
them. It is a litany that many misspent years of participation in BBC 
and other panels had made excruciatingly familiar to me. Sometimes, 
sleepless, in the night I hear the Good Panellist holding forth; voice 
rather high and tremulous but with that ineffable sense of rectitude I 
first detected in Mrs Duncan Harris - ‘What is needed is more and 
better education . . / 

Our relations with the clergy were rather different. The fact was, 
we made use of them. In view of the scurrilous stories circulating 
about our moral attitudes (in which the Colony figured), it suited us to 
have a clergyman on the platform, and if he wore his clerical regalia 
for the occasion so much the better. My father and his friends all called 
themselves atheists, and greatly enjoyed making what would then pass 
for being blasphemous jokes about, for instance, the Virgin Birth - 
much, I may add, to the distress of my mother. In view of their attitude, 
how was it possible for them to find common ground with a beneficed 
clergyman whose very livelihood - to put it no higher - depended on 
praying to God and promoting belief in Him; and who was under a 
statuatory obligation to recite a creed each Sunday which laid down 
specifically a whole series of beliefs about the deity, the incarnation, 
and the resurrection? Such questions may seem very naive nowadays 
when we have grown used to clergymen adopting all sorts of positions, 
from glorifying Playboy magazine to detecting spiritual undertones in 
cults like Mau Mau. Then, however, we still had a vague notion that 
clergymen believed in Christianity, and upheld whatever particular 
version of it the denomination they belonged to based itself on. Sub- 
sequently, it has become clear that, far from this being the case, many 
clergymen are particularly drawn to any movement or position which 
denigrates the Christian religion and its founder. Having, perhaps, lost 
their faith, but being committed for one reason or another to their 
cloth, they derive great, if unconscious, satisfaction from anything that 
undermines the one and discredits the other. 

The formula for peaceful co-existence between my father and his 
clerical supporters was ‘making the world a better place’. Surely, one 
of our local clergy would say, puffing at his pipe and putting on an 



56 The Green Stick 

expression of almost excessive amiability, while seated, to my mother’s 
great satisfaction, I may say, in her folding-chair - surely we can agree 
on a programme of social betterment. More money on education, slum 
clearance, welfare services, and so on. That’s loving our neighbour, isn’t 
it? As for loving God - we’ll see about that in due course, ha! ha! ha! 
This, of course, is an over-simplification, but there was a sort of implicit 
pact whereby God was left out on the understanding that my father 
would accept the other’s credentials as a progressive. On such a basis, 
they could co-operate; the clergyman taking the chair at Labour Party 
meetings, and even standing up for ‘The Red Flag*, and my father in his 
speech referring to his good friend the Rev. so and so, and even accepting 
a benediction at the end of the meeting if one was offered. In Croydon 
at that time such an arrangement was considered highly obnoxious by 
most church-going people, as well as by the Marxists and other 
extremists among my father’s supporters, but it was the way the wind 
was blowing. Archbishop Temple would proclaim Christianity the most 
materialistic of religions (like saying that vegetarianism is the most 
carnivorous of all diets), and the episcopal contingent in the House of 
Lords, if they did not line up with the agnostics and atheists in matters 
like divorce and the legalisation of homosexuality, came in time to accept 
these ‘reforms* as permissible, even desirable. One ought not to have 
been surprised. After all, only a few centuries after Christ had been 
crowned with a crown of thorns his alleged representative on earth was 
being crowned with a gold one. Human beings have the rather en- 
dearing trait, when they falsify the record, of doing it absolutely. Has 
not the Labour Party done exactly the same thing to William Blake, 
transforming his mystical New Jerusalem into a Welfare State, and 
using his exquisite verses on the subject at the obsequies of party 
worthies, even though Blake himself believed, as he wrote on one of his 
Dante designs (his last commission), that Dante had made the same 
mistake as Swedenborg in believing that ‘in this world is the Ultimate 
of Heaven. This is the most damnable Falsehood of Satan & his Anti- 
christ.’ 

I got to know one of our tame clergymen, and quite liked him. At 
the same time, I found him somehow too hearty and gross; his mouth 
seemed somehow too red and raw, his breath too noisy as he sucked at 
his pipe. With his shabby-genteel rectory, its large poorly tended garden, 
where his wife Dorothy, in gardening gloves, worked rather hopelessly 
at the beds; his plain daughter learning shorthand and hoping to study 
at RADA, his son at a minor public school who talked unconvincingly 



A Socialist Upbringing 57 

about backing horses and taking out girls - these were the poor whites 
of the bourgeoisie, and the first to leave the sinking ship. The Rev. Old 
Bill, looking for a better ’ole, found it, as he supposed, in the Labour 
Party. (Not a bad guess, as a matter of fact; Labour Prime Ministers, 
like any others, were prone to reward their sympathisers with prefer- 
ment.) It was in such households that the crack-up of the bourgeoisie 
first showed; daughters turning up at the Windmill Theatre; sons 
among the delinquents, nature’s double-agents, in the dock surprising 
the magistrate - ‘After all the advantages you’ve had; a good home, a 
good education!* I should have expected some sociological Kinsey to 
work on the subject. Indeed, I might have tackled it myself, having been 
interested all my life in priests, clergy, monks, nuns, evangelists; any 
sort of professional religious or exalti. Perhaps I should have been one; 
I like to think a monk notable for his austerities, the voice of one 
crying in the wilderness; but more probably a tiresome Unitarian in 
Walsall who writes incessantly to the local paper. Anyway, the genus 
Intelligentsia may generally be considered as consisting of priests 
and religious manquis . The Rev. Stephen Spender, Fr Connolly, 
Rabbi Levin, Dom Graham Greene, Sister Brigid Brophy. It sounds 
right. 

At week-ends and on bank holidays my father marshalled us for 
country walks or bicycle rides, the countryside being then easily 
accessible. Bicycling, and what was later called hiking, was another 
item in the early progressive package. There were Clarion Clubs and 
specially organised rambles; a love of nature was proclaimed as an en- 
lightened alternative to religious worship, especially by healthy white- 
haired ladies with pink cheeks, and their weather-beaten consorts. The 
cult no doubt went back to Wordsworth and the Lake poets, but more 
immediate inspirers were Walt Whitman and Edward Carpenter, both 
celebrants of health and exuberance and the body beautiful, and both, 
as it happened, homosexual. Our copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass 
had a splendid frontispiece of him, bearded, looking strikingly like 
Hemingway, and with a butterfly perched on his finger. Later, I learnt 
that among his effects was found a preserved butterfly with a specially 
fitted ring attached for fastening on his finger. 

As we rode along on our bicycles with my father in the lead, he would 
shout back at us rapturously about the beauties of the surrounding 
landscape. Just look at those trees! What a view across the valley! Have 
you ever seen anything like the colours in the distance! His enthusiasm 
never flagged. My mother had given up bicycling long ago, and so did 



58 The Green Stick 

not accompany ns. She had only enjoyed it when the two of them rode a 
tandem together, and she could occupy the rear seat; on her own, she 
found riding or pushing her bicycle uphill too arduous, and free-wheel- 
ing downhill too scaring. I assented eagerly to my father’s exuberant 
appreciation of nature, but only to please him; without truly meaning 
or feeling it. Then, on a particular occasion, I found I really did mean it. 
I can remember the occasion perfectly; it was near Chipstead, going 
along a lane that ran past the church, on a June evening at about seven 
o’clock. I expect the lane now is in the middle of a housing estate. The 
light of the setting sun slashed the trunks of the trees, so that they were 
half gilded and half in shadow. Suddenly I realised with a tremendous 
feeling of exultation that this golden light of the sun, this fragrance of a 
June evening and light rustle of leaves - the whole golden, glorious 
scene had some special significance in which I participated. That in its 
all-embracing beauty it conveyed a oneness, and that to identify oneself 
with this oneness, and with the spirit animating it and giving it meaning, 
contained the promise of ecstasy. It was a moment of great illumination. 
Ever afterwards I have felt lost and imprisoned when only concrete lay 
around me for long. Like waking up in New York, and looking out of a 
hotel window before the day begins. Seeing the tall grey buildings as 
impenetrable prison walls; the narrow streets as for monotonous, aim- 
less prison exercise; the tops of the buildings intersecting against the 
remote sky as prison bars. Thus imprisoned, what is there to do but 
live as prisoners do on fantasies of eroticism and violence; stupefied 
with drugs or their own despair? I owe to, of all people, Ilya Ehrenburg, 
an image that I invariably turn to for deliverance from such nightmares. 
Speaking of Pasternak’s writings during the darkest days of Stalin’s 
oppression, Ehrenburg said he saw in them the promise that, however 
high and thick the concrete might be piled, however widely spread, even 
though it covered the whole earth, there would always be a crack, and in 
that crack - greenness, life. 

I will not pretend that, bicycling with my father and my brothers by 
Chipstead Church, all, or any, of this came into my mind. At the same 
time, it marked a sort of turning point; thenceforth, wherever I have 
been, and however dismal my situation or prospect, there has been the 
never-failing solace of feeling earth below my feet and seeing sky above 
my head. Aldous Huxley in - I think - one of his later essays, makes 
the characteristic point that such solace is available only because 
nature has been tamed, and that we hug our urban sanctuaries if the 
alternatives are wild jungle or parched desert or roaring tornado. Ac- 



A Socialist Upbringing 59 

tually, jungle and desert and tornado, no less than meadow and stream 
and gentle breezes, express what concrete hides - our own true habitat, 
the creation of which we are part and the creator responsible for it It is 
in his inexorable separation from this habitat, in all its aspects, that the 
present alienation of technological man consists. The lost connection 
can be made in a desert or a jungle just as surely - perhaps more so - 
than in a landscaped garden or olive grove cultivated for centuries. 
Poor Huxley! - he was always looking for mystical truth in a scientific 
theorem; searching for a Holy Grail which turned out to be a retort; 
climbing up St Simon Stylites’s pillar only to find himself when he got 
to the top in the Cavendish Laboratory. In his last years he came to 
believe that mystical practices and a discreet use of drugs could lead 
to spiritual enlightenment. Alas, those who followed this way all 
too often found that it led to the squalor of drug-addiction and 
despair. 

On Sunday evenings my father read aloud to us from the plays of 
Shakespeare. He had a large three-volume edition illustrated with 
engravings. There was a companion volume of Dante’s ‘Inferno’ with 
illustrations by Dor£ whose pages I often turned over, shivering at the 
plates of poor souls roasting in Hell even though I was brought up to 
believe that no such place existed. My father read all the parts in the 
Shakespeare plays, modifying his voice for the clowns and minor 
characters, and giving everything he’d got to Othello, Lady Macbeth or 
Hamlet. I doubt if he was a particularly good reader; I, anyway, found 
the blank verse difficult to follow, and derived little benefit from the 
readings, though in a way I enjoyed them; I think, again, because of 
the enormous zest my father put into them. My first appreciation of 
Shakespeare came a little later when I attended a series of special 
matinees for school children at the Old Vic, at which we saw most of his 
better-known plays. We paid sixpence for our seats, and fourpence for 
the journey by tram from Croydon to Waterloo; swaying and screeching 
our way through Streatham and Brixton on those old double-decker 
LCC trams whose connections with overhead electric cables on frosty 
days gave off clouds of sparks. I dare say the Old Vic productions were 
pretty rough, and the scenery scanty - I seem to recall mostly curtains - 
but I loved every minute of them. The star was Sybil Thorndike, who 
seemed to take almost every part, male and female, though she can’t 
have played Lear, I remember her brother Russell in the role, memor- 
able because at one of the most dramatic moments his beard camt off. 
No doubt there have been greater actresses, but to me she has a unique 



60 The Green Stick 

glory, because of those Old Vic performances. I was glad the other day 
to have an opportunity to tell her so. 

My father’s books consisted of six or seven shelves-full in a case with 
glass doors. I got to know them intimately. A stranger could have de- 
duced from them everything my father hoped for and believed in. I, 
who was no stranger, saw them as the bricks out of which he had con- 
structed his Heavenly City, to whose coming to pass his life was 
dedicated, and as I thought then, mine, too. Quite a number of the 
books are now forgotten, or remembered only for their period interest, 
but at the time similar collections must have existed in many a pro- 
gressive household. In a way it was an odd assortment. I have men- 
tioned Rousseau’s Confessions and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass f which 
represented the wilder flights of freedom - ostensibly, along with 
justice, our ultimate objective. With them, a volume of Kropotkin’s 
Reminiscences . He was greatly revered among us, and always punctili- 
ously given his title of Prince. Just about when I first turned over the 
pages of his Reminiscences he was returning to his native land in 
triumph; to die there shortly afterwards, and to be accorded a State 
funeral. As the cortege passed the Leningrad prison, his followers, in- 
carcerated in it, shook their fists through the bars - the last anarchist 
demonstration ever to take place in the USSR. 

Beside Kropotkin, there was the Everyman edition of Das Kapital 
Did my father ever read it? I doubt it; I certainly didn’t, and haven’t. 
Then a collected edition of Carlyle in five brown volumes which I still 
possess. I felt I had a right to them because, my father told me, I was 
given my second name, Thomas, after Carlyle. It is a little difficult now 
to see how Carlyle fitted in with the others, given his loathing and 
contempt for representative government, his adulation of leadership as 
exemplified by a Frederick the Great and a Cromwell, his wild vituper- 
ative outbursts against reformers, and - as they would now be called - 
do-gooders. Somehow, however, the trick was done, and Carlyle given 
a place in the pantheon of the Left. To-day he would be seen as display- 
ing early intimations of Fascism. I myself, whether out of satisfaction 
at being his namesake, or from a natural affinity, find the crusty old 
fellow very much to my taste; especially his curious wry humour; for 
instance, his account of going out to see Coleridge at Highgate-a 
comic masterpiece - in his Life of his friend Sterling. Standing along- 
side Carlyle was Ruskin’s Unto This Last\ the book that Gandhi said, 
along with the New Testament and Tolstoy’s Confessions , had most 



A Socialist Upbringing 61 

influenced him. Ruskin’s socialism was, from my father’s point of view, 
suspect, but he was held in affection for his denunciation of the sheer 
ugliness capitalism had created everywhere, especially in the industrial 
north - what we now call pollution. 

In a similar vein, William Morris’s News from Nowhere and Earthly 
Paradise (from which also Sunday evening readings were given), with 
their nostalgia for medieval guilds, knights in armour, and Pre-Raphael- 
ite ladies with long white necks; aspects of socialism which figured little 
in our Croydon Labour Party. The Webbs’ History of Trade Unionism , 
two weighty tomes; Tawney’s Acquisitive Society , The Ragged Trousered 
Philanthropists , Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward ; socialist classics 
all, stood together in a solid phalanx. The last I never persevered with; 
on the wall of my bedroom there was a picture of a man in a field 
bending over a furrow which purported to illustrate it, but I never 
understood that either. Rather apart from the others, a Schopenhauer 
volume, in the Home University Library, and Heine’s Autobiography, 
from which my father loved to quote what he regarded as sparkling 
mots , a particular favourite being a remark that the Venus di Milo had 
beautiful hands. This brought out with great archness and, to make sure 
I got the point (which I didn’t), an aside explaining that the Venus di 
Milo had no arms. Then the famous first collection of Fabian Essays, 
Shaw’s Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant , and Ibsen’s Plays. Shaw was, of 
course, to my father the incomparable hero of our time; he treasured his 
acquaintance with him, and proudly displayed the correspondence they 
exchanged over the Boer War (including a postcard on the top of which 
Shaw had drawn a Union Jack), in which Shaw, ever on the side of the 
big battalions, supported Chamberlain, whereas my father was a pro- 
Boer. My own reading of his plays and their prefaces was decidedly 
desultory, but somehow I picked up a reference in them to Maria 
Bashkirtsef, who had created a sensation by disclosing in her published 
diary that she was prone to sexual desire - something no lady had ever 
before publicly admitted. This was a discovery I did not pass on to my 
mother, but brooded upon it, without coming to any clear conclusions 
as to its significance. Recently I noticed walking along the Promenade 
des Anglais at Nice, that the plaque to Maria on a house there where 
she had stayed had recently been enlarged. This seemed appropriate. 

This diverse pabulum constituted my father’s sacred texts, showing 
him the way to salvation. First, the existing structure had to be over- 
thrown; not with bloodshed and violence, but through persuasion and 
the ballot box. It was a kind of revivalism without tears; sinful men were 



62 The Green Stick 

to be washed, but not in the blood of the Lamb; in, as it were, municipal 
water, with carbolic soap purveyed by the co-op. Having captured the 
machinery of government by means of a parliamentary majority, it 
would be possible to take over industry, the banks, the land etc., and 
operate them, not for profit, but in the public interest. So, State, pro^ 
ducer and consumer - a new version of the Trinity; three in one and one 
in three - would be harmoniously related, and all impediments to the 
enduring health, wealth and happiness of mankind removed or, like the 
State in the Marxist version, allowed to wither away. All this was only, 
in my father’s estimation, a means; the end was the Earthly Paradise, 
the translation of William Morris’s News from Nowhere into News from 
Somewhere . Then Whitman’s sense of abounding joy in his own and all 
creation’s sensuality would sweep away the paltry backwaters of 
bourgeois morality; the horrors of industrial ugliness which Ruskin so 
eloquently denounced would dissolve, and die forgotten as a dream 
(phrases from hymns still washed about in my father’s mind) as slums 
were transformed into garden cities, and the belching smoke of hateful 
furnaces into the cool elegance of electric power. As for the ferocious 
ravings of my namesake, Carlyle, about the pettifogging nature of 
modern industrial man’s pursuits and expectations - all that would be 
corrected as he was induced to spend ever more of his increasing leisure 
in cultural and craft activities; in the enjoyment of music, literature and 
art. 

It was perfectly true -a point that Will Straughan was liable to 
bring up at the Saturday evening gatherings - that on the present form 
the new citizenry might be expected to have a marked preference for 
dog-racing over chamber music or readings from Paradise Lost , but, 
my father would loftily point out, education would change all that. 
Education was, in fact, the lynchpin of the whole operation; the means 
whereby the Old Adam of the Saturday night booze-up, and fondness 
for Marie Lloyd in preference to Beatrice Webb, would be cast off, 
and the New Man be bom as potential fodder for Third Programmes 
yet to come. 

Very properly and logically, my father sent my brothers and me to the 
local elementary and secondary schools, in this differing from many 
Socialists of his sort who, like Lord Snow, praise the State system while 
preferring Eton or some lesser establishment of the same kind for their 
own progeny. It is something for which I personally am profoundly 
grateful. If I had gone even to the local grammar school - which rated 
as a public school of sorts - 1 feel sure that vanity, and a congenital and 



A Socialist Upbringing 63 

rather lamentable passion to be liked, would have induced me to fit into 
the system, and I should have gone on to Cambridge, not as an outsider, 
but already with the requisite preliminary conditioning, emerging 
fully brain-washed to take my place with the new Socialist elite, the 
Hendersons and Greenwoods and Noel-Bakers, corresponding to the 
Cecils and Percys and Cavendishes in the Tory Party. From this 
abysmal destiny I was saved by the happy accident of going to an 
elementary school when, to all intents and purposes, such schools were 
considered to be only for the children of parents too poor and un- 
ambitious to look for anything better. Later, of course, this changed, 
with the coming to pass of comprehensive Etons like Holland Park 
School, specially earmarked for the progressive elite. As for my second- 
ary school -it had just opened and, in the conditions of the 1914-18 
war, was largely staffed with a bizarre collection of aged and incompetent 
teachers who for one reason or another had been rejected for national 
service. Neither type of school was likely to make any very strong 
impression on the boys who went through them, and I emerged un- 
scathed and largely unlettered. Some years ago I returned to my old 
secondary school and found that it had now become a grammar school, 
with all the usual appurtenances in the shape of houses, prefects, 
blazers, a school song, and so on, and is no doubt turning out as good 
a crop of long-haired, pot-smoking, discotheque-frequenting youths as 
any other establishment of the kind. AJas, my father’s vision of the 
intellectual, moral and aesthetic transformation this kind of education 
was going to bring about seemed as far from realisation as ever, if not 
farther. 

My elementary school was in one of those stark bare buildings which 
successive Education Acts spawned over the country; wherever children 
liable under the Act were gathered together. It stood in an asphalt 
playground; inside, the classrooms were divided by partitions which 
could be pulled back to provide an assembly hall. Here we gathered in 
the morning for prayers and a hymn, and on Friday afternoons to sing 
‘Now the Day is Over* - which we did with enthusiasm since it signified 
two clear days of freedom ahead. This somewhat lugubrious hymn, if 
I happen to hear it, still awakens in me an instinctive response of delight. 
The headmaster presided; a grey, distinguished-looking man who spoke 
with great distinctness, as elementary teachers did in those days. He 
sounded us off with his tuning-fork. Never having been able to sing in 
tune, I developed a faculty for appearing to be joining in eagerly, but 
actually making little or no sound; a faculty that has proved useful in 



64 The Green Stick 

all sorts of ways subsequently. For instance, in listening to long anec- 
dotes, or expositions on how the monetary crisis can be solved. Once the 
late Professor Namier read me a whole front article he had written in 
The Times Literary Supplement - some three to four thousand words - 
in a slow deliberate voice. It was a searching test, but as he droned on, I 
was back in my elementary school, ostensibly singing away at the top 
of my voice but actually thinking of other things. After the singing, the 
Headmaster offered prayers; we had some difficulty with the aspirate 
in ‘hallowed be thy name’, and were sometimes required to repeat it 
several times before we said it to his satisfaction. I asked afterwards in 
class whether God was as particular about aspirates as the headmaster, 
and was rebuked - alas, the first of many similar occasions. 

My first teacher was Miss Corke, a young girl straight from college; 
earnest and pretty. I did not then, of course, know, but she had become 
friendly with another elementary school teacher in Croydon - D. H. 
Lawrence - with whom she spent much of her spare time. While she 
was taking me through my alphabet, Lawrence was taking her through 
his dark unconscious. Her reminiscences of Lawrence, when I came to 
read them, seemed to me to give a clearer and more sympathetic picture 
of what he was really like than the rest of the regiment of women who 
ravened round him and subsequently produced their testaments. Some 
of his poems are addressed to her, and one of his novels - The Trespasser 
- deals with a tragic incident in her life, about which she also wrote a 
novel, Neutral Ground. Thus, an Eng. Lit. scout who wanted to could 
make a comparison between the incident itself, Lawrence’s treatment 
of it and her own. I was able to persuade her to come and talk to me 
about Lawrence in my garden under the camera’s eye. This is one of 
the things that television can do uniquely well - recording an experience 
or a relationship in the very words, and with the very gestures and 
expression, of the person concerned. Meeting again in such circum- 
stances after so many years was a strange and pleasant experience; 
she a small white-haired lady in her eighties, but as sharp and clear as a 
bird, and I the person I am, in my late sixties. The June weather 
happened to be perfect, the garden at its best, the flowers at their 
brightest. Lawrence’s uneasy ghost seemed to be hovering round. I 
still felt as I had all those years before, that I was in the presence of 
my teacher, whose rebukes must at all costs be avoided, and whose 
praise was infinitely desirable. 

When the cameras had gone, and as the evening wore on, a difference 
of view, if not a dispute, arose between us. This concerned what human 



A Socialist Upbringing 65 

life is about, and where we who are involved so mysteriously in this 
experience of living are being led. Miss Corke still took the view that 
mankind have their destiny in their own hands, and are passing on to 
new heights of understanding and achievement, with the prospect of 
ultimately being themselves the masters of their own universe. She even 
read me a passage - 1 must say, little to my taste - in this sense from 
Wells’s earlier writings. I did not unkindly remind her of how totally, 
in Mind at the End of its Tether , his last work, he retreated from this 
position, groaning and beating his breast over, of all things, atomic 
fission, which, in the light of all his previous utterances and prophesies, 
should have been for him an occasion for great rejoicing. It was as 
though, on the last day, a Salvation Army band paraded with its colours 
flying, only to turn tail and run when the earth began to shake and the 
heavens to unroll like a scroll. I did, however, try and explain that this 
whole notion of Man climbing a mountain peak at the top of which he 
finds his total and definitive fulfilment is, to me, not merely absurd, but 
highly depressing. That, rather, as it seems to me, he is as Bunyan saw 
him, a pilgrim making his way through all the perils that his own 
appetites and wickedness create, to an ultimate enlightenment. The 
pilgrimage is endlessly made, from generation to generation, and from 
age to age, and the way is always the same way; more likely to be found 
by the lowly and the pure of heart than by the strong and the proud. 
I could see that my words impressed Miss Corke as little as her reading 
had me. Her preference for Darwin over Bunyan was marked. 

After Miss Corke had retired to bed, I stayed awake a long time 
thinking of the chasm which divides those who believe in a mortal 
destiny, however glorious, and those who cannot find the heart to live 
at all, to go on from day to day, except on the basis of an immortal one. 
Belonging, as I do, so strongly to the latter category, the former seem 
to me fated, either to suppose themselves to be gods and, like Icarus, fly 
into the sun, there to perish, or to fall back upon their animal natures, 
and the Sisyphus task of maintaining a condition of permanent rut. 
Miss Corke’s friend and would-be lover, Lawrence, straddled the two 
positions. With one side of him he saw with true imaginative clarity the 
ruinous course the world was set on - ‘as if a whole social form were 
breaking down, and the human element swarmed within the disinte- 
gration, like maggots in cheese ... so that it seems as though we had 
created a steel framework, and the whole body of society were crumbling 
and rotting in between’. But all he had to offer in the way of a solution 
were the sick phallic fantasies and perversities of quasi-impotence, 

C.W.T. — B 



66 The Green Stick 

carried in his last novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover , to a pitch of absurdity 
seldom, if ever before, equalled. 

He was one of those men, tragic and gifted, who work out in them- 
selves the conflicts and dilemmas of their time; who are themselves 
our own fever and pain. In Lawrence’s case, his sickness became the 
cult of succeeding generations; Lady Chatterley, sponsored by a motley 
collection of writers, clerics and miscellaneous intelligentsia, was the 
progenitor of a torrent of porno-eroticism which her creator would have 
found deeply abhorrent, and incidentally so enriched her publisher in 
the process that his shares were quoted on the Stock Exchange as 
Chatterleys. It only remained for the Warden of All Souls to exercise 
his considerable, but dormant, scholarship in demonstrating con- 
clusively that Mellors’s own sexual fancies were distinctly abnormal, to 
round off a superb exercise in contemporary fatuity. When, in 1930, I 
heard of Lawrence’s death - actually, at a cocktail party in Cairo; a 
quasi-literary affair of the sort that used to take place there in those pre- 
British Council days, in which a very little literature was served up with 
a lot of Levantine dressing - 1 found myself crying, though even then I 
was beginning to realise how shallow was the soil in which his thought 
and talent had grown and developed. It is the only occasion I can recall 
in which I cried over the death of a public figure unknown to me. I 
suppose I was unconsciously aware of how in some sense Lawrence 
was the prototype of us all - weaving a phallic cult out of his impotence, 
turning his shrill rage against the inexorable doomsday march of our 
time, howling down the corridors of time to produce a thin delphic 
echo. With his ribald seraglio of Baroness, Hon. Brett and Mabel 
Dodge; with Middleton Murry for John the Baptist and a sometime 
Bishop of Woolwich for posthumous advocate, he surely deserved my 
Cairene tears. 

The first event in the outside world that I remember as something 
actually happening and involving me was the outbreak of the 1914-18 
war. My father came home with a newspaper and told us. His face was 
grave, but what I most vividly recall is the tremendous excitement of 
everybody. The crowds in the streets shouting and cheering; the sense 
of terrific events about to happen. Contrary to what pacifists and other 
humane persons would like to believe, wars, when they break out, tend 
to be popular. They offer the illusion of an escape from the boredom 
which is the lot of, particularly, technological man. He will be able to 
make off, not shamefacedly or furtively, but as a hero; the routine of 
his daily life and domestic relationships will be broken, and the same- 



A Socialist Upbringing 67 

ness of his days give place to uncertainty and drama. In August 1914 
they shouted: ‘Hurrah for war! 1 ; in September 1939 they did not dare 
to do that after the Peace Ballot and all the talk about another war being 
the end of civilisation, but a lot of people may well have felt the same 
without letting on. How it would be in the event of yet another war 
fought with atomic weapons is difficult to say. It is true that the Vietnam 
war has been unpopular, but mainly among students, who have no 
routine or domestic relationships to escape from. If recruitment, 
instead of being among the young, had been restricted to married men 
of forty and upwards, I doubt whether there would have been much 
trouble. 

Many accounts have been written of this undoubtedly momentous 
occasion, which will probably appear in the history books as marking 
the final decline of Western European dominance in the world. There 
was Grey with his ‘They are putting out the lights . . .’ (which apparently 
he didn’t say or, if he did, meant something quite different), and 
Kitchener sitting behind his big moustache, and estimating, to everyone 
else’s total incredulity, that the war would last at least five years. 
Leonard Woolf told me that he and the Bloomsburyites saw in the out- 
break of the war the end of all their hopes, reasonable in the pre-1914 
context, as he considered, for moving forward into a kindlier and better 
civilisation. One imagines them wailing together over those lost hopes. 
My father’s face was grave, but he had doubtless just read in the paper 
that people reading the paper had grave faces. As for me, I was soon 
calculating that if only the war would go on for another five years I 
should be called up. I even, when the war had been going for two years, 
went with great trepidation into a recruiting office near the Town Hall 
and said I was seventeen, though I knew I looked, if anything, younger 
than my years, and my voice still had not properly broken. The recruit- 
ing sergeant, a kindly old regular with a rosette in his service hat, told 
me to come back with a birth certificate. My two elder brothers were 
soon both in the services - my eldest brother a subaltern in polished 
riding-boots, and the next one in the newly formed Royal Flying Corps 
with a tunic fastening on his shoulder like a fencing jacket and a fore- 
and-aft cap - and I envied them inordinately. Recruits, still in civilian 
clothes, were marched with a band to the railway station, and I some- 
times trailed along behind them. Our school cadet corps had been re- 
vivified, and we occasionally marched through the streets to the sound 
of kettle drums, led by our headmaster, an unsoldierly figure who 
habitually wore his Sam Browne over the wrong shoulder. I myself 



68 The Green Stick 

rose to be CSM, having developed an unexpected gift for bellowing out 
orders. 

The outbreak of the 1914-18 war, among many other things, con- 
fronted my father and his friends with a delicate situation. They had 
all been pro-Boers in the Boer War, and were more or less committed 
to a pacifist position. One of my father’s strongest points in Surrey 
Street was always to draw attention to what might be achieved in the 
way of schools and hospitals with the cost of just one dreadnought. 
Again, he frequently denounced war scares as a device of cunning 
armament manufacturers to increase the demand for their wares. 
General Roberts, who went about the country calling for rearmament 
in face of German aggression, was, if not as abhorrent as Northcliffe, a 
decidedly unsympathetic figure. Armament manufacturers - commonly 
known among us as merchants of death - were a godsend in the way of 
providing us with an identifiable villain; one of the great needs of the 
political Left being to be able to point an accusing finger at someone, 
or some corporate body, as being responsible for public and private 
wrongs and misfortunes. We spoke darkly about Vickers, Krupp, the 
Comiti des Forges , above all about a certain mysterious Sir Basil 
Zaharoff, as being allied together to keep us all spending our money on 
useless armaments, to their consequent enrichment. It was one of our 
arguments that, if only private trading in arms were stopped, wars and 
war-scares would likewise automatically come to an end. How surprised 
we should have been to know that governments flogging arms to all and 
sundry would far outdo private operators, and that actually a future 
Labour Government would employ a representative at a very high 
salary to go about the world for that very purpose. 

Then there was the question of Germany, greatly preferred in those 
days in progressive circles to France. Carlyle may have had something 
to do with this, and even the Prince Consort, reputed to be a progressive 
sort of man. Above all, there were the German Social-Democrats, 
respectable, God-fearing, beer- rather than wine-drinkers, who could 
surely be relied on to curb the sabre-rattling policies of the Kaiser and 
the Prussians. When in the Reichstag they voted for war credits, the 
bottom fell out of this whole position. At the next Saturday evening 
gathering, the talk went on longer, and more whisky and water was 
drunk than at any previous one. In the end it was decided, rather along 
the same lines as the Colonists when they ejected the farmer who had 
started nibbling away at their land, that the war must for the time being 
be supported in the hope that, once won, it would be possible to take 



A Socialist Upbringing 69 

steps to prevent anything of the kind occurring again. I, listening in the 
cosy corner, agreed, and when, on Monday morning, on my way to 
school, I saw some boys throwing mud at a drawing of Kaiser Bill 
which had been chalked on the wall, I joined in. Being a hopelessly 
bad marksman, I failed to reach the target. 

It was at this time that I started going to the cinema. One had opened 
in South Croydon. On Saturday afternoons one could get in for three- 
pence, and stay there till the early evening, reeling out, blinking, into 
the sunshine or the dusk. There was a long serial that I followed 
assiduously, starring Pearl White; the early Charlie Chaplin comedies 
were shown, and once a production of Macbeth by Beerbohm Tree, with 
Sarah Bernhardt playing Lady Macbeth. A flickering, incomprehensible 
film which yet stuck in my mind because of this extraordinary old 
woman appearing in it, by this time incapable of even standing up. In 
those days the cinema was in almost total darkness, broken only by the 
torches of the usherettes flickering like glow-worms as they showed 
people in and out. Every now and again, to relieve the musty, stuffy 
smell of the place, perfume was squirted along the rows and over our 
heads. A pianist tinkled away, and there was usually a singing item in 
which a figure on the screen appeared to be singing a song that was 
actually played on a gramophone. The sync frequently went awry, with 
the words of the song and the movements of the singer’s lips not tallying. 
What fabulous development this presentation of moving pictures on 
film was to undergo! Picture palaces as fanciful as Kubla Khan’s, stars 
whose blown-up, long-drawn-out embraces would provide erotic fan- 
tasies and dream bed-fellows for all mankind; organists, seated at their 
jewelled instruments, rising out of the floor; then the shadows on the 
screen speaking, changing from black-and-white into colour, acquiring 
three dimensions, to be at last piped via aerials, or dreaming spires, 
into private homes; a nightly spectacle effortlessly watched, with every 
sitting-room a Caliban’s magic island, filled with sounds and sweet 
airs which give delight and hurt not, so that when the viewers wake 
- if they ever do - they cry to sleep again. The reign of the camera had 
begun. I cannot pretend that I was aware of the implications of my pro- 
tracted Saturday afternoon communings with shadows flickering across 
a screen, but it is certainly true that, increasingly, when I emerged, what 
was outside took on the character of the pictures I had been looking at, 
rather than the other way round. All the world in a picture palace. 

When the zeppelins, those great silver fish, came to bomb us, we 



70 The Green Stick 

strained our eyes looking for them in the sky, heard the explosions as 
they dropped their bombs, then with one accord made our way to where 
the bombs had fallen - in this case, Brixton. Many others who had the 
same notion, were milling about there, looking for souvenirs; bits 
of bomb or shrapnel, frenziedly digging out of the wooden blocks of 
the roadway any fragments of metal they could find - actually, more 
often than not, the metal studs of motor tyres which had got embedded 
there. Somehow it recalled scenes I had read of in historical novels of 
massacres or martyrdoms in which the spectators bathed their handker- 
chiefs in the blood of the victims. 

Or, again, Armistice Day, when with a school friend I took a bus to 
Woolwich, staying on at the terminus and returning in the same bus to 
Croydon. From the open upper-deck we watched the crowds singing, 
shouting, dancing, embracing, vomiting, climbing on to the tops of 
taxis, grabbing one another and making off to the parks. It was, to me, 
an eerie and disturbing, rather than a joyful, scene - those flushed animal 
faces, dishevelled women, hoarse voices. Perhaps at fifteen - which I 
then was - 1 should have liked to join in; at the same time, in the light 
of my father’s hopes, I had to consider that it boded ill. Were these the 
future citizens of his Socialist Commonwealth? Was this what freedom 
meant? I found myself, as I so often have, in the position of a reluctant 
and indecisive prig. Then, I was too young to decide the matter one 
way or the other; when the next Armistice Day came round, some 
twenty-seven years later, too old. 

At home my father attached a small Union Jack to the porch of our 
house. There were, of course, many other flags flying that day, but that 
my father should put one out was stupefying in its implications. It 
would scarcely have been less surprising if he had suddenly announced 
that he had been appointed a Governor of the Bank of England, or 
that he was contemplating taking Holy Orders. Union Jacks were for 
Conservative rallies on Empire Day, or to drape over the table at Con- 
servative election meetings; not for us. When the National Anthem was 
played, we stood up as a matter of form, but in a languid way, with a 
deprecatory expression on our faces, indicating that the tune and the cere- 
monial had nothing to do with us, but belonged to the world of bearded 
King George V and enamelled Queen Alexandra; of prelates and 
judges and peers, of Lloyd George with his white locks falsely floating 
in the wind, and Lord Kitchener with his pointing finger; of admirals 
and generals and air-marshals in their glittering regalia. My father 
realised that the flag on our porch was something that required an 



A Socialist Upbringing 71 

explanation, and so went on to deliver what amounted to a little formal 
apologia for it, with an eye cast, especially, in my direction. 

In the first place, he said, he felt immeasurable relief at the ending 
of the war’s senseless slaughter and destruction, and at the survival of 
my two older brothers. Then he looked forward to a new and better 
world. If he did not actually say one fit for heroes to live in, he might 
well have. We like to think that we saw through the fraudulence of the 
past, but actually the same false money jingles in every pocket. Further- 
more, he went on, however dubious had been the purported causes of 
the war, and however monstrously unscrupulous its conduct, it had, willy 
nilly, turned into a war to end war. There must, there could, never be 
another, mankind would not stand for it. Already the phrase League of 
Nations had entered into my father’s vocabulary, and thence into mine; 
already the Fourteen Points, and President Woodrow Wilson who pro- 
pounded them, belonged to our kingdom of light. The turgid discourses 
of this Princeton professor were, to us, golden words, and he a knight in 
shining armour who could be relied on to champion righteousness. As 
it happened, I saw the President in the newsreel at one of my Saturday 
afternoon cinema visitations. He moved across the screen from his 
motor car to the Palace of Versailles with the quick step and in the silver 
rain of early movies; tall black hat jerkily raised, spectacles shining, 
lantern jaws opening and shutting, but no sound coming. I suppose I 
had expected something quite different; someone Garibaldi-like, 
Byronic, with shining eyes and Boating hair, rather than this sober- 
looking professorial figure who might easily have been one of my 
undertaker-grandfather’s men. At that moment of history he was the 
centre of all attention, the focus of the hopes of millions of people. It 
was reported that Eastern European peasants made wooden models of 
him before which they lit candles and prostrated themselves. If so, I 
hope very much that one or two exemplars remain, to be discovered 
by future anthropologists, if there are any. Their observations on the 
cult would be interesting. 

Looking back, it strikes me as curious that the Russian Revolution, 
to the best of my recollection, made so small an impact at the Saturday 
evening gatherings. I should have expected it to be an occasion for 
great celebration, especially as my father made a sea trip to Russia 
shortly before the outbreak of the 1914-18 war to recover from a minor 
operation, and had numerous anecdotes of the police surveillance to 
which he was subjected there. The reason, perhaps, is that, in the war- 
time Press, news of the Revolution, and of the Kerensky regime which 



72 The Green Stick 

followed, was played down, and by the time the war was over the 
Bolsheviks were in control. About them, Fabian Socialists like my father 
were extremely dubious, and with an election coming along they did 
not want to be identified with men who were systematically represented 
as murderous, anti-Christian and cynically untrustworthy. In the posters 
and cartoons of the time, the Bolsheviks are usually shown as bearded, 
piratical figures, with their hands dripping blood - visibly, if the picture 
happened to be in colour. Very much, in fact, as capitalists are shown in 
Krokodil to-day. Shaw, the Webbs and the other leading Fabians were 
likewise strongly opposed to the USSR in its early struggling days; they 
only began to admire it when it had hardened into an authoritarian 
terrorist regime. Their admiration turned to besotted adulation when 
Stalin took on the role, and very much the style, of the deposed Czar; 
only more brutally, efficiently and vaingloriously. 

It should be remembered, too, that up to the outbreak of the 1914-18 
war, the early Socialists assumed a continuance of the international 
status quo as far as Western Europe was concerned, and so took little 
interest in foreign affairs. In the famous first collection of Fabian Essays, 
not one deals with this subject. It is assumed that England will continue 
to be strong, rich and stable, disposing of the requisite means to intro- 
duce, constitutionally and by consent, practical socialist measures. In 
the shambles that followed the Versailles settlement, this assumption 
was rudely shattered; thenceforth the Polish Corridor, the Sudetenland, 
the Anschluss, the re-militarisation of the Rhineland, the Saar Plebiscite, 
became part of daily life; salt cellars and cutlery were arranged on the 
table to show that whoever controlled so-and-so dominated somewhere 
else. Clausewitz came to be quoted rather than Heine or Schopenhauer, 
and my poor father, who had put out a flag on nth November, 1918, 
found himself constrained in the years that followed to pore over atlases 
in search of new and old frontiers. At the end of his life he ruefully 
reflected that, when the means to install Socialism were available, there 
were not enough Socialists, and when there were, if anything, too many 
Socialists, the means were lacking. 

To me, when I got to hear more about it, the Russian Revolution 
seemed a glorious episode. I related it to the taking of the Bastille 
and all the events that followed as I had read of them in Carlyle and 
A Tale of Two Cities . The fact that both Carlyle and Dickens present, 
on the whole, unfavourable pictures of the French revolutionary regime 
did not detract from its essential glamour in my eyes; nor prevent me 
from believing that the October Revolution and its outcome were 



A Socialist Upbringing 73 

similarly glamorous. A love of revolution for its own sake, quite apart 
from its circumstances and consequences, is part of the romantic out- 
look; then, as the young do now, we shouted for revolution without 
thinking of how, in France, it had resulted in Napoleon, the prototype 
for every power- and notoriety-seeking villain who has afflicted mankind 
subsequently; nor, of course, knowing that in Russia it would result in 
Stalin, one of the most blood-thirsty and obscurantist tyrants of all 
time. We called the Metropolitan Mounted Police Cossacks, rejoiced 
over early Soviet films like Mother and The Battleship Potemkin, spoke 
of workers’ control and cadres and agitprop, and I personally decided 
inwardly that sooner or later I would go to Russia and throw in my lot 
with the new and better way of life that, I was confident, was coming 
to pass there. It may be that this cult of revolution for its own sake is 
now coming to an end, despite the vociferousness of its student prac- 
titioners. The fact that one of its most unsavoury devotees - Byron - 
has recently been honoured by being accorded a place in Westminster 
Abbey, suggests as much. What the Dean and Chapter approve to-day 
history will have abolished yesterday. 

Now I fell in love for the first time. I happened to see Dora, a girl of 
about my own age, whose brother I vaguely knew, playing tennis on a 
public court, and instantaneously the whole of existence for me was 
concentrated on that one face, uniquely beautiful, as it seemed, and 
distinct from all other faces. At the same time, the scene itself in which 
I saw her was glorified and became angelic; as though the wire-netting 
of the court were golden mesh, the grass greener and softer than any 
grass ever before seen, the sound of the tennis ball against the racquets, 
and the laughter and shouts of the players, joyous and most wonderful. 
Whatever bodily stirrings accompanied these transports were merged 
and lost in this larger ecstasy, and I should have been outraged to think 
that what I felt could be reduced to the dimensions of schoolboy 
eroticism, with which, inevitably, I had become familiar. I was reminded 
quite recently of how deep-seated these feelings were when I happened 
by chance to see a schoolgirl wearing in her hat the same badge - an 
ivy leaf - as Dora had done, and found myself suddenly alerted, as 
though I were still constantly on the watch for it, just as I had been 
more than half a century before. 

After our first casual encounter we spent nearly all our spare time 
together; often in the evening at her home. I grew very fond of her 
father particularly; a delightful character who called his wife ‘Peach 



74 The Green Stick 

Blossom* and was given to playing The Lost Chord* on his comet. It 
sometimes happened that, to stay with Dora a little longer, I missed 
the last tram and had to walk the three miles or so home along the 
empty track; somehow borne up on my way; not quite fixed by gravity 
on the tarmac, or governed by the regular chiming of the Town Hall 
clock. I suppose there are few routes more intrinsically remote from 
Blake’s notion of piping through the valley wild than from Thornton 
Heath, where Dora lived, to South Croydon, where I did, following the 
tram lines. Yet, for some reason, of all my memories of her, this one, of 
trudging homeward after the last tram had gone, has a special glow 
about it. There were, of course, quarrels and angry partings; we exasper- 
ated one another with the sexual urges we mutually aroused, and then 
only partially and inadequately, or not at all, satisfied. We went for 
country walks together, picked blackberries, talked about books and 
writers, and what we were going to do in the world. I even bashfully 
read out verses I had written addressed to her, most of which are now, 
mercifully, lost. I recall with shame one thing I did, which was to use 
some of these verses in a satirical sense in a play I wrote - Three Flats - 
that was put on by the Stage Society in 1931, and subsequently pub- 
lished. From time to time throughout my life, without deliberate intent, 
I have done such cruel things, directed often against those I cared for 
most. 

Our youthful love belonged to the suburban setting in which we 
lived; to the rows of small identical houses; to the Crescents, and Rises 
and Avenues; to the gravel of unadopted roads, and the parks and recrea- 
tion grounds and surrounding countryside into which new housing was 
constantly seeping, like ink on blotting-paper. In cinema darkness we 
sat clasped together, caught up ourselves in the silent swollen embraces 
and grimaces and posturings on the screen. Emerging into the lights 
and crowds outside, I felt vaguely uneasy and shamefaced. In the 
Blitz, by a strange accident, I found myself alone with Dora in a cellar 
after we had not seen each other for years. She by this time had been 
twice married, and I, too, had fully experienced what are still called in 
our weird jargon the facts of life. Yet we stayed side by side like grizzled 
adolescents, while outside the world in which we had been youthful 
lovers crashed and shook and burnt about us. 

My going to Cambridge seems to have been almost accidental. Like 
most lovers of mankind, my father was inclined to be casual in making 
arrangements for his own family. Though my academic attainments 
were decidedly meagre, I somehow got myself accepted. It necessitated 



A Socialist Upbringing 75 

passing an examination in Latin, a language I had never studied, and 
now know nothing of. So there must have been some sleight-of-hand. 
I seem to remember learning off by heart the translation of a Latin 
comedy which seemed to me abysmally unfunny - a premonition, may- 
be, of becoming editor of Punch . There was also, in those days, a com- 
pulsory divinity exam which I somehow managed to get through. 
This involved mastering Paley’s Evidences , a long-forgotten work which 
purports to prove the existence of God. I cannot now remember any 
of the arguments, but I know they failed to convince me at the time; 
something I did not confide to the examiners. Finally, to go to Selwyn, 
an Anglican foundation, it was necessary for me to be baptised and 
confirmed, which none of us had been; my father as a convinced 
agnostic would have blushed to subject us to such a practice, though 
my mother would have quite liked it. I forget exactly how, but I got 
myself done by a bishop along with a number of others who, like myself, 
came into the Prayerbook category of riper years. The only thing I 
remember about the ceremony is that somehow at some point in it I 
got out of step, and that, noting this, the officiating Bishop wore a look 
of great irritation and ill-temper. 

So, when I was seventeen, I went into residence at Selwyn Col- 
lege-then, officially, a public hostel, not a college at all -with the 
intention of reading a Natural Science Tripos. The subjects I was to 
take - chemistry, physics and zoology - were the only ones available at 
my secondary school for post-matriculation study. Thus, my choice of 
them was more or less unavoidable, despite the fact that I had no 
interest in them, and only the scantiest knowledge of them; in the case 
of zoology, none at all. Four years at Cambridge did little to alter this 
situation. I managed to scrape up a pass degree, but have never opened 
a book or thought about any of my three subjects from that day to this. 
I looked round curiously at my fellow-undergraduates. Even at Selwyn, 
most of them were from public or grammar schools; I must have been 
one of the very few secondary school specimens in my year. This was 
my first acquaintance, in their own native habitat, with the English 
middle and upper classes, whose characteristics were, I think, more 
noticeable at Selwyn than at more fashionable and famous establish- 
ments like King’s and Trinity; in the same sort of way that a virus 
fighting for its existence is easier to detect and isolate than one in a lush, 
favourable environment. The only gentry I had known previously were 
the aforementioned clergy, Quakers and Fabians, all of whom might 
be regarded as, in a manner of speaking, class Quislings, and so not 



76 The Green Stick 

typical. The first elucidation I had was when the Dean, in the course of 
an address to freshmen in the college chapel, remarked, as an aside, 
that none of us were likely ever to be in want, or to lack for the essential 
requirements for a bourgeois way of life. (He did not put it in precisely 
those words, but that was what he meant.) I had absorbed sufficient of 
my father’s sense of economic insecurity, as well as of my Booler 
relatives’ attitude to unemployment as a kind of natural catastrophe 
always hanging over their heads, to find this remark completely novel. 
It had never occurred to me that, in coming to Cambridge, I was moving 
into a world in which the economic hazards I had hitherto assumed to 
be as natural to our human condition as illness, or even death itself, 
just did not arise. 

In South Croydon our notion of the upper classes was expressed by a 
notice outside a large house standing opposite ours which read: ‘Oxford 
House School for the Sons of Gentlemen*. Now, when education has 
replaced institutional religion as a fount of hypocrisy and sanctimonious- 
ness, the very naivetd and simplicity of the notice gives it a certain 
charm, and even dignity. At die time, it was a constant source of 
derision to us, especially when we saw the Oxford House boys in their 
splendid caps and blazers mustered for an outing, or, in singlet and 
shorts, on a cross-country run. As I came to realise after the Dean’s 
address, it was more or less true then that a boy who had been to a public 
school and taken a degree at Cambridge could assume that his livelihood 
was assured; especially as we still had an Empire on which the sun never 
set, as distinct from a Commonwealth on which it never rises, offering 
him all sorts of openings, from governorships and colonial bishoprics 
to affluence and a good chance of a knighthood on the banks of the 
Hooghly. Hence the self-assurance, and in the more ill-mannered among 
them arrogance, which so struck me among my fellow-undergraduates. 

The converse face of this self-assurance or arrogance was the highly 
developed system of sycophancy which prevailed; fags required to be 
sycophantic to their masters, players to the captain of games, boys to 
prefects, prefects to their housemasters, housemaster to headmaster, 
and so on. I found the undiscriminating application of this sycophantic 
attitude of mind to anyone of note or in authority quite surprising 
until I got used to it. Even then I was sometimes astonished; for in- 
stance, to hear quite senior figures in the Foreign Office - regarded as 
an upper-class pasture - speak with almost breathless admiration of an 
Anthony Eden or an Ernest Bevin; even more absurdly, a heavily 
moustached Head of Chancery in an Embassy refer to Ramsay Mac- 



A Socialist Upbringing 77 

Donald in terms which might well have seemed excessive if applied 
to Bismarck. In the army, again, I marvelled at the adroitness with 
which public-school-reared junior officers helped their brigadiers on 
with their overcoats compared with the clumsy efforts of us socially 
inferior officers to ingratiate ourselves with them. Even in the Labour 
Party the unlikely emergence of figures like Hugh Gaitskell, R. H. S. 
Crossman and Wedgwood Benn may well have been fostered by their 
sycophantic skills. Bertrand Russell's elder brother, when he was a 
member of a Labour Government, told me that he had never before 
been so conscious of the advantages of being an earl. I doubt, however, 
whether the built-in sycophancy of the upper classes can be regarded 
as a social asset, precisely because it is so undiscriminating. A Khrush- 
chev attracts it as readily as a Curzon. As the Nazi regime, particularly, 
showed, anyone who gets into power may count upon being adulated in 
the upper social echelons; it is the poor whose support is difficult to 
attract. 

The great difference I observe when I visit Cambridge nowadays is 
that, compared with my own time there, they are all - dons and under- 
graduates dike - on the run, and, as is the way with fugitives, tend to 
discard more than they need to make a getaway. Whereas in my time 
poor boys like myself were induced to copy the others - their clothes, 
their ways, their speech - now it is the other way round. The upper-class 
boys copy the poor ones, decking themselves out in a weird kind of 
proletarian fancy dress, and speaking in an accent which sounds like a 
badly rehearsed number in a satire show. They are social descenders, 
who display, in reverse, all the absurdities, and more, of socid climbers. 
The most comical part of the whole thing is that when, to clinch the 
transformation, they adopt what they consider an appropriate ideology, 
it usually turns out to be a half-baked regurgitation of the Marxism 
and associated revolutionary notions which were fashionable at the 
time of the Spanish Civil War. Again, the parallel with the situation in 
reverse as I knew it is strikingly close. The social climber in my day 
felt it necessary to go to the extremes of Kiplingesque patriotic loyalty 
to King and Country, in precisely the same way that the socid descender 
nowadays goes to the extremes of revolutionary disruption. It is difficult 
to decide which of the two attitudes is the more ludicrous; but on the 
whole, the latter seems to me to be the more deleterious. A ruling class 
may gain strength from its apes, but the forces of necessary change are 
weakened and discredited by jackds. 

As a secondary schoolboy, I was, of course, an outsider. Public 



78 The Green Stick 

schoolboys, whatever their particular school -from the most famous 
like Eton, to the most obscure - had a language of their own which I 
scarcely understood, games they played which I could neither play nor 
interest myself in, ways and attitudes which they took for granted but 
which were foreign to me. For instance, their acceptance of sodomy as 
more or less normal behaviour. When I went to Cambridge I scarcely 
knew what this was apart from vague references in the Bible. It was 
not, at any rate, in those days, a proletarian or lower-middle-class vice. 
The university, when I was there, was very largely a projection of public 
school life and mores , and a similar atmosphere of homosexuality tended 
to prevail. There was also a hangover from Wildean decadence, with 
aesthetes who dressed in velvet, painted their rooms in strange colours, 
hung Aubrey Beardsley prints on their walls, and read Les Fleurs du Mai . 
The nearest I came to being personally involved with these was when a 
High-Church ordinand after dinner read to me from Swinburne’s Songs 
Before Sunrise in a darkened room faintly smelling of incense. I emerged 
unscathed. 

There were also a lot of ex-service undergraduates, men some years 
older than the rest of us, who wore British warms and scarves, and who 
had served in the war. I remember them as being all, in their different 
ways, versions of the war books which were later to be so popular. 
Minor Robert Graveses, Richard Aldingtons, Ernest Hemingways, 
Siegfried Sassoons bom to blush unseen. University ways and regula- 
tions understandably irritated them, and many of them seemed always 
on the point of exploding; a consequence, no doubt, of the appalling 
strain of their experiences in Flanders and other theatres of war, about 
which they were ready enough to talk on occasion, with mounting 
hysteria. In a way, they were tragic figures. At Selwyn a good number of 
them were ordinands, mostly in the Woodbine Willie, or padre, style; a 
version of Christianity which emerged from the 1914-18 war, enor- 
mously sincere, ardent, and at the time seemingly vital, but which 
subsequently, for the most part, ran into the sand. This invariably 
happens when it is attempted to relate a transcendental faith to an 
earthly hope -in this case, pacifism. Like bringing back an alpine 
plant from some arduous rock climb and bedding it out in a window- 
box. Among ordinands generally, especially at Selwyn, the ultra High- 
Church or Anglo-Catholic Movement was still in full swing. There was 
a great deal of talk about the Reserved Sacrament, Popeing (which 
meant going over to the Roman Church), vestments and other liturgical 
and ceremonial embellishments. I was taken on one occasion to breakfast 



A Socialist Upbringing 79 

•with an aged Anglican priest called Father Tooth (the ‘Father’ was 
stressed in such circles) who had once been stoned when celebrating 
Holy Communion in gear that was considered Romish for an Anglican 
service. The vestment in question, along with one of the stones heaved 
at him, was preserved in a glass case in his living-room. It seemed a 
mini-martyrdom. 

Cambridge, to me, was a place of infinite tedium; of afternoon walks 
in a damp, misty countryside; of idle days, and foolish vanities, and 
spurious enthusiasms. Even now when I go there, as my train steams 
into the station or my car reaches the outskirts, a sense of physical and 
mental inertia afflicts me. It was my father who tingled with excitement 
at the thought of my being at Cambridge; not me. I suspect that the 
prestige of a university education is almost entirely due to the yearnings 
of those who feel they have been deprived of one, and that the present 
decline in its prestige comes of there being fewer and fewer who feel 
so deprived. Perhaps, when there are none to feel deprived, its prestige 
will sink to nil - one of the few benefits to be expected from the institu- 
tion of free university education. It was my father who used expressions 
like ‘my Alma Mater’, or ‘sporting my oak’; when he came to visit me 
at Cambridge he was thrilled by my rooms, the Union, dinner in hall, 
boating on the river; everything. If only he had gone to Cambridge 
instead of mel How hard he would have worked to get a first, whereas I 
did nothing and just managed to get a pass degree; how assiduous he 
would have been at the Union debates, whereas, though he paid for me 
to have a life subscription, I scarcely ever attended, and never once 
spoke. For me, the years at Cambridge were the most futile and dismal 
of my whole life. I look back on the self I then was with the utmost 
distaste - the showing off when I came to Croydon in the vacations; the 
getting into debt (which my father always paid with little complaining, 
though he could ill afford it) through buying clothes and other un- 
necessary things out of vanity; the fatuous imitation of a sort of person 
I could never be, nor ever wanted to be. 

How somehow second-rate it all was! The clock at Grantchester and 
honey still for tea. Rupert en beauti to-night, as glimpsed by Lytton 
Strachey at Covent Garden; to be smothered in his beard, or deafened 
by Hugh Dalton’s boom, or just transfixed by Maynard Keynes’s 
frosty lechery. Rupert the dead poet-hero of our time. The Prince of 
Wales, another hero, likewise magnificently unprepared for the long 
littleness of life in the Boulevard Suchet. Or the even more macabre 
one, Lawrence of Arabia, with many a scruffy acolyte sitting cross- 



80 The Green Stick 

legged and elfin among the unwashed-up crockery; his seemingly in- 
destructible legend surviving every exposure of fraudulence and 
depravity. Lectures by Quiller-Couch, notes shaking in shaky hands. 
The sea! The seal Wide checks and massive coloured tie to offset the 
gown and mortar-board. Or Old McTaggart muttering philosophically, 
and scattering anecdotes about himself with a lavish hand. In the labs, 
where I was supposed to attend for long sessions, dogfish needing to be 
cut up; something boiling in a retort. High up in the lecture theatre 
(like, I used to think, trying to comfort myself, the Mountain in the 
French Revolution) hopelessly making notes; the single piece of infor- 
mation acquired there which has stayed with me being a silver-haired 
professor’s complaint that, having hit upon some chemical drying agent, 
he patented it for making bricks out of sand, whereas someone else 
used it to manufacture Cerebos Salt, and made a fortune. Poor silver 
head! 

On the river - Give her ten! Or watching games and yelling. Or the 
university rag; requiring so little modification to become the university 
demo. Or just trudging to and fro on desolate afternoons. Then in the 
evening the chapel bell intruding into buttered toast, and sounding 
across the darkening court. The porter in his bowler pricking the names 
of those who attended evensong. Wearing a surplice; ‘Dearly beloved 
brethren,’ spoken down the nose with a sniff at the end of each sentence, 
T pray and beseech you, as many as are here present . . .’ Perhaps the 
only good thing I got out of Cambridge was a certain familiarity with 
the incomparable Book of Common Prayer. Then into hall for dinner. 
That smell always hanging about there of stale bread and old cheese! 
It must have got into the wood of the benches and tables. The clattering 
plates, the passing food, the Latin grace. Perhaps it all had a meaning 
once, but not for me. I found it as moribund as El Azhar, where the 
Mullahs chant monotonously and unintelligibly to a little circle of 
students dozing round them. 

In my last year at Cambridge, through my friendship with Alec 
Vidler - a friendship that has lasted all my life - 1 went to live at the 
Oratory House. It was the headquarters of an Anglican religious order, 
the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, to which Alec belonged, consisting 
mostly of priests and ordinands of the Anglo-Catholic persuasion. The 
offices were said during the day, periods of silence were enforced; in the 
afternoons I often worked in the garden with Wilfred Knox, a rare, 
sweet human being of whom I became very fond, and for whom I 
sometimes acted as server when he celebrated Holy Communion. I 



A Socialist Upbringing 81 

fell into this way of life with great contentment, enjoying its remoteness 
from the University, and its relative austerity as far as food and domestic 
comforts were concerned. Austerity has always made me happy, and its 
opposite, miserable. I find it strange that, knowing this, I should so 
often have inflicted upon myself the nausea of over-indulgence, and had 
to fight off the black dogs of satiety. Human beings, as Pascal points out, 
are peculiar in that they avidly pursue ends they know will bring them 
no satisfaction; gorge themselves with food which cannot nourish and 
with pleasures which cannot please. I am a prize example. 

Living so contentedly at the Oratory House did not make me the 
more inclined to throw in my lot with friends like Alec and Wilfred 
Knox; Lord , I disbelieve , help thou my belief was more my cry. Despite 
the agnosticism of my home and upbringing, I cannot recall a time when 
the notion of Christ and Christianity was not enormously appealing to 
me, though where Peter only heard the cock crow thrice on that one 
tragic occasion, for me it has been over long years matutinal. I knew 
from a very early age - how I cannot tell - that the New Testament 
contained the key to how to live. I somehow knew it to be our only 
light in a dark world. Not just in my father’s sense that Jesus himself 
was a good man, and his moral precepts greatly to be admired, even 
though his ostensible followers in the various churches ignored and 
perverted them. I soon saw through this, understanding that Jesus could 
not be turned into just a finer version of Wilberforce or William Morris 
or Robert Owen, into a paid-up member of the Labour Party, and 
potential Life Peer, without diminishing him to the point that Christian- 
ity became too trivial to be taken seriously. He was God or he was 
nothing. 

No, what appealed to me were the wild extravagances of faith; the 
phrases about God’s wisdom being men’s foolishness, St Francis of 
Assisi rejoicing at being naked on the naked earth, the sublime para- 
doxes of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Surveying the abysmal 
chasm between my certainty that everything human beings tried to 
achieve was inadequate to the point of being farcical, that mortality 
itself was a kind of gargoyle joke, and my equal certainty that every 
moment of every day was full of enchantment and infinitely precious; 
that human love was the image vouchsafed us of God’s love irradiating 
the whole universe; that, indeed, embedded in each grain of sand was 
eternity, to be found and explored, as geologists explored the antiquity 
of fossils through their markings - surveying this chasm, yawning in its 
vastness to the point of inducing total insanity, tearing us into schizo- 

C.W.T.— F 



82 The Green Stick 

phrenic pieces, I grasped that over it lay, as it were, a cable-bridge, frail, 
swaying, but passable. And this bridge, this reconciliation between the 
black despair of lying bound and gagged in the tiny dungeon of the ego, 
and soaring upwards into the white radiance of God’s universal love - 
this bridge was the Incarnation, whose truth expresses that of the des- 
perate need it meets. Because of our physical hunger we know there is 
bread; because of our spiritual hunger we know there is Christ. 

I will not pretend, of course, that I saw all this then, just as I have 
written it down, or for that matter that I see it now as I should love to 
see it - as a child sees in the dawn the sure prospect of a joyous day, 
or reaches up for its father’s hand in the sure knowledge of its loving 
support and guidance. Yet, then as now, I knew it, and knew it more 
confidently than I knew anything else; in the confusion of a wilful, 
opinionated and ill-trained mind, it alone was steady and luminous. 
Where I faltered was in establishing a connection between what I knew 
and the practice and dogmas of the Christian religion, even as exempli- 
fied by someone as noble and profound as Alec, or with as delicate 
and whimsical a spiritual perception as Wilfred. The churches altogether 
seemed to me part of the whole decaying social structure, the stench of 
whose decomposition was so strongly in my nostrils. Passing Wilfred 
the wine to transform into blood, the wafers to become the body of 
Christ, in the little Oratory House chapel, I felt perfectly at peace. As I 
did, saying the offices. Or ringing the Angelus for the others. Equally 
at peace, in the knowledge I have always had, and never wholly lost, 
that we are pilgrims here, with a dwelling-place elsewhere. (Never 
wholly lost - but sometimes the darkness falls, impenetrable, seemingly 
for ever!) Yet how to connect the two - the worship and the knowledge 
of God? This I have never solved. 

Once, sweeping up dead leaves with Wilfred, he spoke of the priestly 
vocation. What use would I be? I asked him. His answer I found curious 
- that I could persuade people to do things. What things? I asked. But 
he left the matter there. He had this way of dropping out half sentences, 
fragments of jokes and innuendo, scraps of speech and thought. His 
brother Evoe, my predecessor but one as editor of Punch , though utterly 
different in every respect and, to me, less sympathetic, had the same 
way with him; so resembling his brother in this that I sometimes 
thought he must be there with us. Likewise, another brother, Ronnie, 
who, after he had become a Roman Catholic convert, was given the task 
of re-translating the Bible; a Via Dolorosa indeed for him, since, as 
the son of a Protestant Evangelical Bishop, he knew the Authorised 



A Socialist Upbringing 83 

Version by heart. It was like asking a veteran of many Bums dinners 
to devise a new setting for Auld Lang Syne. 

Round about the same time that I fell in love, I became acquainted 
with the other great fact of our earthly existence. I mean, death. Some- 
thing that cannot be hidden however hard we try to persuade ourselves 
that we are immortal; able to replace our spare parts as they wear out, 
and so be kept on the road indefinitely like vintage cars; to go on having 
orgasms even when our flesh is dry and wizened, and our bones creak 
abysmally. In the end, nothing can hide the fact that this hand now 
tapping out these words will in a matter of at most a few years fall inert, 
and this mind framing the words likewise cease to function; while the 
words themselves over which I struggle and torment myself, be they as 
sublime as the sunflower weary of time, or as banal as a feature article 
in a travel supplement, or, more probably, something in between, 
matter no more to me than the Bonjour , madame I said this morning 
to an unknown lady exercising her dog. 

The experience of death came suddenly, its herald being a policeman, 
who appeared at the door while my father was crunching his last 
mouthful of toast washed down with his last gulp of tea preparatory to 
racing for his train. When my mother opened the door to him, the police- 
man entered and took off his helmet, thereby at a stroke transforming 
himself from a portentous figure of authority into a rather appealing 
pink-and-white face jutting out of a blue uniform. From a whispered 
colloquy with my father, it appeared that my brother Stanley - the one 
next to me in age who served with the RFC - had met with a serious 
accident on his motor bicycle, which he rode daily to work, and was 
now in the Croydon General Hospital in a grave condition. It was 
decided that my mother should stay at home with her tears and fears, 
and my father and I made our way as quickly as possible to the hospital, 
passing on the way the crossroads where the accident had occurred; a 
place well known to me because of a crossing-sweeper there. I should 
suppose he was one of the last of his kind; a man with a dragging leg 
(I imagine he had suffered some kind of a stroke) who, while he swept 
his crossing, babbled away incomprehensibly to himself; something that 
naturally appealed to schoolboys. On this particular morning he was 
babbling away, as it seemed to me, more furiously than ever, which I 
attributed to the accident whose debris still lay about the road, including, 
as I thought, some traces of blood. Whether the blood was really there 
or not, I cannot now be sure, but whenever, afterwards, I conjured up 
the scene, I saw it there. 



84 The Green Stick 

At the hospital we were shown at once to where my brother was, 
though we did not see him because of a screen round his bed. From 
behind the screen there came a curious spasmodic gurgling noise, due, 
as I learned afterwards, to a tube which had been inserted into his 
throat through which he was breathing. While I was listening to the 
sound with fascinated intensity, as it might be to a count-down, it 
became more spasmodic, and began to falter, like a top running down. 
Then it stopped, and I understood that my brother was dead. This was 
death - a gurgling noise faltering, and then stopping. I caught a glimpse 
of a white dead face, already drained and shrunken, and beginning to 
look like a skull, but with a strong resemblance to my mother which I 
had not noticed before. I had been intending to play tennis with Dora 
that morning, and so was in flannels, with a white boating blazer (to 
which I was only dubiously entided), which added a touch of grotesque- 
ness to the occasion. 

On the way home my father remarked in a ruminadve tone of voice: 
Tm very resilient.* It was so utterly characteristic of him that it brought 
tears to my eyes for the first time that morning. I knew exactly what he 
meant - that though he would be as grief-stricken as any other father, 
he would not allow this grief to prevent him from attending the next 
meeting of the Croydon Borough Council. After my father’s remark 
about being resilient, we fell silent, and there came insistently into my 
mind the memory of an incident concerning my brother’s fiancee, a 
luscious, bold, rather beautiful girl whom I found very appealing. Once 
she had come up to the little room at the top of the house where I kept 
my books and was supposed to study during the vacations. I must have 
made some sort of amorous gesture, for she looked down complacently 
at her legs (skirts were almost as short in those early post-war years as 
to-day’s mini-skirts) and said: ‘They’re already booked,* or words to 
that effect. I had brooded over these words at the time, finding them 
crude and inelegant, but in a way exciting. Now, returning from seeing 
my brother die, they repeated themselves over and over as though they 
had some special point or significance. 

At home, my father tried to comfort my mother, and I felt it necessary 
to go through the motions of relieving my feelings, which I did on the 
ample bosom of Mrs Milne, a lady who lived next door in the house 
that was to have been Will Straughan’s. Round her mouth, as I had 
noticed before, were some sparse tough hairs on which particles of food 
were liable to get skewered - something that must have struck me 
forcibly, for I notice these hairs recurring several times in some sketches 



A Socialist Upbringing 85 

for short stories that I scribbled down round about this time. The 
Milnes had the first motor-car I ever rode in, an Overland whose hood 
was put up and down with great difficulty. Its fixtures included some 
holes in the sides of the car into which they would put wine glasses 
with the stems broken off when they wanted to refresh themselves, 
which was rather often. It was a device which gave them great satis- 
faction. I never saw my dead brother's fiancee again. 

I spent my last long vacation in Belgium working for Lunn’s Tours. 
This came about through my friendship at Cambridge with Leonard 
Dobbs, with whom I shared rooms after I left the Oratory House. 
His father was a director of Lunn's, and responsible for operations on 
the Belgian coast. As a result of this interlude I subsequently married 
Leonard's sister, Kitty, and got to know Hugh Kingsmill Lunn, who 
became a close friend; two of the greatest blessings of my life that I owe 
to Leonard. He was an unusual, rather sombre man, very gifted; a 
brilliant skier, a scientist of exceptional promise, curious about many 
things, enormously argumentative, and with a propensity for carrying 
every thought and notion to the extremes of fantasy. At the end of his 
life, when he was living with Kitty and me, he devoted himself to 
making an enormous gramophone horn, so huge that it could not be 
moved from the room in which he was working on it. At one point he 
married a Mile. Cantaloupe, but their union was not a success. He died 
in the early part of the 1939-45 war, I think with relief. Hugh Kingsmill 
said of him - and I am inclined to agree - that he was more lovable than 
likeable. 

On the Belgian coast I was one of the shepherds of the Lunn flock. 
We met them at Ostend where they arrived, saw them to their hotels, 
arranged tours for them, and generally watched over their welfare. It 
was an occupation which, more than I realised at the time, had great 
bearing on things to come. In taking parties to Bruges, for instance, and 
addressing them on the town, its history and its art treasures, I acquired 
a facility for talking convincingly on a basis of very little, if any, know- 
ledge; an accomplishment equally useful in education, journalism and 
television. I also learnt at an early age the great truth that the twentieth 
century is an age of almost inconceivable credulity, in which critical 
faculties are stifled by a plethora of public persuasion and information, so 
that, literally, anyone will believe anything. It is on this basis that our 
great newspapers, television and radio networks, universities and schools, 
churches and, above all, our great advertising agencies and all their 
ancillary activities in the field of public relations, are conducted. 



86 The Green Stick 

The lesson was brought home to me by a figure of Chaste Susannah 
in Bruges, which, I used to say, following another Lunn’s man, Louis 
Wilkinson, was fittingly fashioned in white alabaster. At the end of the 
season I was disconcerted to learn that she was in black ebony. In any 
case, no one ever raised the point. In later years, whenever I was 
troubled about some hideous misconception which had slipped into 
print or on to the air, I always turned for comfort to this white alabaster 
Chaste Susannah, never in vain. Louis Wilkinson was a writer -a 
novelist and literary critic - and so held in great admiration and respect 
by me. He had flowing auburn hair and a spade beard to match; knew 
the Powys family, and spoke much about them, every word of which I 
treasured, and as a schoolboy at Repton had written fan letters to Oscar 
Wilde, enclosing a photograph. Despite this daring gesture, a subsequent 
meeting with Wilde in Paris proved disappointing to both of them. 
Dining with Louis and his wife, Nan, as I sometimes did, at Blankenberg 
where they were staying, he always made a great fuss about the wine, 
praising particularly some Volnay which, he implied, was a useful 
aphrodisiac. Though I never liked wine or had the slightest interest in 
it, I used for years afterwards to repeat this panegyric of Volnay as 
though it was a precious piece of wine lore of my own. 

After we left the Belgian coast I went to stay for a week-end with 
Louis and Nan at their flat in Christchurch Road, in one of the remoter 
regions of London. It was a fairly modest dwelling with, however, 
many literary trophies which held my attention - Louis’s own books in 
their jackets, letters from Maugham, J. C. Squire and other writers, 
photographs of the Powys brothers. His voice was slow and ponderous, 
very like a clergyman’s (he was, in fact, a clergyman’s son), and became 
in time tedious. His jokes likewise palled; as when he would say that 
though he himself had taken no part in the war, he had given two of his 
boys to fight for King and Country. Nonetheless, I continued to hang 
on his words, though later I ridiculed him in various fictional guises. 
Nan was a minute creature, also a novelist, and suffering from tubercu- 
losis. While Louis was away for some reason or other, we went for a 
walk together in the neighbourhood of Christchurch Road. Because of 
her illness she was not allowed to talk while walking, so we went along 
hand in hand in silence, every now and again pausing while she coughed, 
and then spat out the sputum into a blue bottle she had with her for 
the purpose. The following morning she climbed into my bed, but I 
was unable to appreciate this gesture owing to the looming presence of 
Louis who could be heard sifiging in his bath. A few years later I heard 



A Socialist Upbringing 87 

that Nan had died. Long afterwards I met Louis again. He looked 
exactly the same except that his skin was drier and his hair more care- 
fully combed and spread over his head. He repeated his joke about giving 
two of his boys to fight for King and Country, even though, by that 
time, another war had intervened. 

Lunn*s Tours, of whose operations on the Belgian coast I had this 
brief experience, were pioneers in what was to become an enormous 
industry - holidays and travel, which not only kept the Press going 
with its advertisements, but also provided the world of the mid- 
twentieth century with one of its few elements of stability. International 
Wagon-Lits , it seemed, rather than the ‘Internationale’, united the human 
race. The founder and head of the firm, Sir Henry Lunn, made the 
discovery on which his flourishing business was based when, as a young 
missionary returned from India, he was given the task of organising a 
conference at Grindelwald for the reunion of the churches; an early 
essay in ecumenicalism. He found that, if a hotelier was offered an 
assured consignment of clients, he w ould reduce his charges, thus leaving 
a comfortable margin of profit for the entrepreneur. Applying this 
principle, he established, first, the Church Travellers’ Club, then, at a 
slightly lower social level, the Free Church Touring Guild, and might 
have gone on to complete the social spectrum with a Workers* Travel 
Association. This, however, was left to other hands. He did mount 
higher with his Hellenic Travellers* Club and Public Schools* Alpine 
Sports Club, both of which catered specifically for the upper classes, 
and to make sure that this not only happened but was seen to happen, 
a number of free places were provided for peers, dons and other certified 
gentry. It was in the too lavish provision of these free places that the 
good man came to grief, his snobbishness, very creditably, proving 
greater than his cupidity. 

I got to know him later on through Hugh Kingsmill, one of his three 
sons, the other two being Brian and Arnold. Hugh so disliked every- 
thing about his father that he dropped the ‘Lunn* from his name. Sir 
Henry was, admittedly, a somewhat Pecksniffian figure, but with some 
redeeming traits of naivetd and absurdity. Once, going up on the train to 
London from Hastings, he told me that when he had persuaded some 
bishops to attend his Grindelwald Conference, W. T. Stead -the 
famous editor of the Pall Mall Gazette whose series, ‘The Maiden 
Tribute of Babylon*, made straight the way for many another moralistic 
campaigner fulminating against wickedness, and thereby advertising it - 
admonished him that he should now never go back to curates. When I 



88 The Green Stick 

said that this was as though, after the conversion of St Luke, Jesus 
should have been instructed never to go back to fishermen, his face fell. 
His knighthood was a great solace, but his hopes for a peerage were 
disappointed. The nearest he got was to be on the list Asquith prepared 
of the names of those who would be recommended for peerages if their 
elevation proved necessary to force the passage of the Parliament Bill 
through the Upper House. How exasperating for them, good Radicals 
all, that standing up to the House of Lords did not involve their going 
there. I am occasionally reminded of Sir Henry when I catch a glimpse 
of some beach where bodies lie packed side by side roasting in the sun, 
or on one of the more lurid prospectuses for a fortnight at the Costa 
Brava, and wonder how, as a good Methodist, he would react to this 
outcome of his first faltering steps in the tourist business. Was it for 
this that he made his discovery about getting advantageous terms from 
the Grindelwald hoteliers when he brought together those earnest 
would-be reuniters of the churches - precursors of the World Council 
of Churches and the Vatican Council. Perhaps, after all, it was. 

Mr Dobbs, Leonard’s father, and my future father-in-law, was a 
genial Protestant Irishman who by chance had joined the crew of this 
Methodist brig Sir Henry sailed with such panache in the triple winds 
of piety, snobbishness and cash. It was he who first mentioned Kitty 
to me as having returned from a stay in Switzerland. The things that 
really happen to one, I have found, have all happened already; the other 
happenings - like wars, and seductions, and prizes, and going to the 
moon - are theatre merely. Thus, I heard of Kitty’s return as I might 
hear of the weather forecast for a day already lived through; as some- 
thing that did not need to be said because it was so obvious, and yet in 
its very obviousness good to hear. It is this sense, in all the true - as 
distinct from the theatrical - drama of our lives, that it is pre-ordained, 
that it not only has been and will be, but is, that makes us know we are 
immortal, and, within the smaller dimensions of imaginative literature, 
supports the action of coincidence - something for which a novelist like 
Anthony Powell is sometimes criticised, in my opinion unjustly, since 
coincidence is not only plausible, something that undoubtedly happens, 
but part of the very fabric of life itself. All our true living has already 
happened, and will go on happening for ever, all our true relationships 
already exist when we make them, and can never be broken. So, you 
take someone’s hand, and use a name, perhaps embrace, before a hand 
has even been offered, or a name been given, before you have even 
looked in one another’s faces, because that hand, that name, that 



A Socialist Upbringing 89 

embrace are part of both; part, as Donne puts it, of the atomies of 
which we grow - souls whom no change can invade. There are only a 
few occasions on which I have felt so, and this was one of them. I saw 
Kitty afterwards at the villa where her family were staying, and all of 
us went bathing and walking over the sand-dunes. All I remember 
about her then is that she was wearing some sort of a red knitted jumper 
with patterns on it, and that she was tanned from her stay in Switzer- 
land. During the next - and my last - term at Cambridge, she visited 
Leonard, and we went for a walk by the Cam. I helped her over a stile. 

Somehow - 1 forget the precise circumstances - 1 had tea with Mrs 
Dobbs, Kitty’s mother, at a cafe in Heyst before Kitty returned from 
Switzerland. She was sitting waiting for me, and I had no difficulty in 
spotting her. A hat decorated with artificial fruit was perched on top of 
her noticeably small head; she wore, as she almost invariably did, a 
shirt with a stiff high collar and tie of sorts; her boots were dusty, and 
made for comfort rather than elegance; her battered suit was cut in 
the style of the early part of the century, with a long coat and flowing 
skirt. By her side was a bag containing her painting materials, a small 
stool, and - though of course I did not know this at the time - some 
provisions of uncertain age. A large nose jutted out of a weather-beaten 
face; her hands were bony, with long fingers, and covered in paint; her 
voice, when she addressed me, was gruff and impossible to place in any 
of the social categories of accent and pronunciation. She might have 
been a gipsy beggar-woman or a duchess, or anything in between; there 
was no means of knowing. I greeted her, and ordered tea and cakes, 
which, when they came, she consumed with great zest. There was 
nothing she liked better than free hospitality. As I came to know later, 
she was a woman of almost inconceivable generosity, who would, 
literally, starve to give her children something they wanted. At the 
same time, economising was a passion with her, and she carried it to 
inordinate lengths; like serving horse-meat for sirloin, watering mar- 
malade, and eschewing butter in favour of margarine, which, she said, 
was indistinguishable from butter, and anyway she liked it better. Her 
abounding hospitality led her to invite many guests to the villas and 
chalets and rented houses between which her family moved; her 
parsimony led her to provide only the same amount of food however 
many there might be to consume it. I suppose it could be said of her 
that she was one of the most maddening of human beings; certainly the 
most maddening I have ever known. Yet she was also, as I vaguely 
grasped at this first meeting with her, a kind of angel, in Blake’s sense, 



90 The Green Stick 

that she belonged directly and wholly to the great fount of life and 
energy, with no involvement in the systems of thought and morality 
and aesthetics which men create with their minds to evade living as 
angels in their imaginations. She had no mind; only a being. I think of 
her as I have often seen her, painting away to catch the last rays of the 
sun, immune to heat and cold, to buzzing insects as to curious spec- 
tators, utterly intent on what she saw around her, herself a part of the 
scene; as it might be, a bit of old creeper, or a weather-stained rock, 
or a tree shaken and tossed and still precariously standing on a cliff-face. 

‘You are a friend of my son, Leonard/ she said, and I nodded. ‘I hear 
you have very Left-wing views/ I nodded again. ‘I take my political 
views/ she went on, ‘from my sister Beatrice Webb and the New 
Statesman / I proceeded to try and demolish both, citing the Russian 
Revolution, which the Webbs at that time held in great abhorrence. 
She replied with ‘Beatrice says . . . Sidney says . . / It was impossible 
to argue with her, then, or ever. She had a way of dropping out wildly 
controversial statements, often chosen with great cunning to produce 
the maximum irritation in the person to whom they were addressed, 
and then, when the storm broke, of placidly repeating her original 
statement We moved on to the subject of personal immortality, in 
which she had a passionate and abiding interest; desperately wanting 
there to be an after-life, but only if it were here, on the earth, with 
sunsets and dawns and high waves breaking against wild rocks. Dreading 
that there might be no immortality at all, only darkness and obliteration; 
or, if there were, that it would be heavenly instead of earthly, with a 
judgment at which she would fare ill. We went to and fro, with this 
subject, until it was dark. Then she abruptly got up to go, and made off, 
carrying her bag, with those loose-fitting boots of hers scraping the 
pavement as she went along. 

I had no particular idea what I should do after Cambridge, except 
that I was committed to teach in one capacity or another. In addition to 
my poor pass degree, I had taken a diploma in education; yet another 
course of instruction of which I can remember nothing except turning 
over the pages of some sort of treatise on child psychology and of 
another volume called significantly The Play Way , as well as partici- 
pating in various teaching demonstrations. These included a music 
lesson, at which, being unable to produce or recognise any musical 
sounds, I was at a heavy disadvantage, and giving a demonstration 
lesson myself, under the eye of a supervisor, on some distasteful verses 
by Walter de la Mare beginning: ‘Three jolly gentlemen dressed in 



A Socialist Upbringing 91 

red, /Rode their horses up to bed.’ My impression was, and is, that, 
happily, the children had not the faintest idea of what I was talking 
about. Then, by chance, I heard an Anglican missionary, the Rev. 
W. E. S. Holland, appealing for staff for an Indian Christian college in 
South India, and on an impulse offered my services. I was accepted, 
and found myself in possession of a steamship ticket to Colombo, with 
general instructions to go on from there to Alwaye, in what was then 
Travancore, and present myself at the Union Christian College. 



3 Twilight of Empire 



The world’s too little for thy tent, 

A grave too big for me. 

- George Herbert 

sailing down the Thames on a P & O liner -the SS Morea- on 
my way to the open sea and India, I felt well content. I have always had 
a great weakness for making off. Shutting a door behind me never to 
open it again; disengaging myself from a sleeping figure, and tiptoeing 
away, downstairs and out into the street and the grey anonymous dawn 
of another day. Now I was making off, leaving everyone and everything 
behind me; unpaid bills and overdrafts, actual and emotional. I had 
seen little of Dora of late. We had drifted apart, largely through my 
fault. The self I had become as a result of my idle, conceited years at 
Cambridge was a very unalluring one. I recall with shame the falsity 
and pretentiousness of letters I wrote to Dora after we became estranged. 
They were even worse than Keats’s to Fanny Brawne; a relationship 
which greatly interested me. I was always trying to be some literary 
figure or other. In the case of Keats, there were two major deficiencies 
in my impersonation; I wasn’t a poet and I didn’t die. 

My father came to see me off. He never had an engagement important 
enough to stop him from being with me on any special occasion. We 
walked up and down the deck together, neither of us being easy sitters, 
and talked about politics. Ramsay MacDonald’s first Labour Govern- 
ment had taken office without a majority in the House of Commons, and 
so was dependent on Liberal support. Suddenly, MacDonald, a much 
hated man, especially in the 1914-18 war years, had become a popular 
folk hero, with pictures of him in the papers; at Chequers wearing his 
tweed knickerbocker suit, his grey curls awry in the wind, and a faraway 
look in his eyes. My father’s esteem for him, never very marked, was 
diminishing rapidly. He feared, all too justifiably as it turned out, that 



Twilight of Empire 93 

MacDonald was succumbing to what sour critics of his social ways 
called the aristocratic embrace. The assimilative power of the English 
upper classes was still formidable, enabling them to absorb into them- 
selves alien elements; Jewish, Asian, Levantine, Negro even, not to 
mention a distracted Scot from Lossiemouth who went down as 
smoothly as an oyster. Later, as their fortunes declined at an acceler- 
ating rate, it was the other way round; the aliens absorbed them. No 
reference was made to where I was going, or to what conditions would 
be like when I got there, for the very simple reason that neither of us 
had looked the place up on the map, or had more than the sketchiest 
notion of what I should be expected to do, how I should live, or even 
what I was going to be paid. This was not disinterestedness, but just an 
engrained improvidence, to which both my father and I were prone; 
uncorrected, in his case, by hardships and responsibilities, and in my 
easier circumstances, quite unchecked. When the bell rang for visitors 
to leave the ship we shook hands. I cannot remember ever kissing my 
father, though I must have done so as a small child. As I watched 
him leave the ship and walk away, I was surprised, and rather 
disgusted with myself, to find that I felt a kind of relief at leaving him 
too. 

The fallacy about making off, as I soon discovered, was, of course, 
that I remained myself; whether travelling round the Inner Circle or 
out to India. In this particular case, too, the SS Morea proved to be 
just a little bit of Croydon sailing over the high seas. Once again the 
suburban style of living proved to be the master-print of the age. I was 
sharing my second-class cabin with an Indian clergyman, the Rev. C. K. 
Jacob, who afterwards became a bishop, and in that capacity visited me 
when I was editor of Punch . I noticed that, as a bishop, he cracked his 
finger-joints in exactly the same way as he had when he was just a simple 
clergyman. After we had been at sea for some days, I became aware that 
my sharing a cabin with an Indian, even though he was a clergyman, 
aroused comment. I actually overheard one of the passengers - a man 
w T ho put on white shorts after Marseilles and worked in the Army 
Ordnance Department - saying with considerable moral fervour that it 
wasn’t right. Even though I knew that at Cambridge the question of 
Indians and Africans becoming captains of games had aroused contro- 
versy, I had not hitherto run into the Ordnance man’s attitude, whereby 
for an Englishman to mix on intimate terms with an Indian (other than 
on the most intimate terms of all: viz., to sleep with Indian women, 
which practically all Englishmen in India did at one time or another) 



94 The Green Stick 

was morally reprehensible. There was already a large and growing 
literature on the subject, I know, but for some reason I have always 
instinctively shied away from books about racialism, with titles like 
The Clash of Colour . Kipling I had read and enjoyed, though reading 
him in my home was comparable, I should suppose, with reading 
pornography in a Methodist one. I must, I think, have got hold of 
Kim and The Jungle Book at school. 

Kipling has come to signify an extreme racialist attitude, but, in 
point of fact, the hero of Kim - the book of his I enjoyed most - is a 
little half-caste boy whose affections and loyalties are more Indian than 
English. Again, his brilliant short story, Without Benefit of Clergy , is a 
beautifully touching account of a love-affair between an Englishman 
and an Indian girl; so touching that I have always thought that it must 
have been partly autobiographical and may account for the curious 
fact that, after he left India in his twenties, Kipling never once went 
back there, though he was an inordinate traveller all his life. As will 
assuredly come in due course to be seen, he represents the only truly 
artistic yield of the years of the British Raj; not excepting New Delhi 
and A Passage to India . Curiously enough, it is Indians to-day who are 
more aware of this than Kipling’s fellow-countrymen, whose judgment 
is twisted and distorted by excessive guilt feelings about ever having 
ruled over India at all, and who, in the present climate of opinion, 
would sooner appear as rapists than as racialists. On the recent centenary 
of Kipling’s birth I gave a televised lecture on him to the Kipling Society. 
A man in the audience astonished and delighted me by claiming that 
Kipling was a Marxist. I have long been expecting an ecumenical 
pilgrimage to Marx’s grave at Highgate Cemetery, led by a Salvation 
Army band, with the Archbishop of Canterbury well to the fore, and 
the Atheist International (there must be one; at any rate there’s a 
branch at the BBC) bringing up the rear. Even in that delectable 
gathering, though, I had not anticipated the presence of a represen- 
tative from the Kipling Society. 

The effect on me of the Ordnance man’s attitude was to make me 
spend more time in Jacob’s company than I should otherwise have 
done. He was, truth to tell, a bit of a bore, and, had he been white, I 
should have seen little of him outside our cabin. As it was, I felt bound 
to walk up and down the deck with him, to ensure that we sat at the 
same table in the dining saloon, and generally to make him my bosom 
companion. This may well have been as tedious for him as for me, but 
it was imposed on us by the attitude of most of our fellow-passengers. 



Twilight of Empire 95 

An exception was a piano-tuner on his way to Singapore, who also sat 
at our table and who behaved impeccably. I marvelled that there were 
sufficient pianists in Singapore to provide a livelihood for a piano-tuner, 
but I heard afterwards that he opened a music shop there, throve, and 
during the Japanese occupation behaved with great courage and charity. 
A weakness for the bottle, and a forlorn, lost expression I noted in his 
right eye, were due, it seems, to personal troubles he had been experi- 
encing. I cannot say that anyone actually insulted Jacob; it was just an 
awkward atmosphere created by my sharing a cabin with him ever 
having been raised as an issue at all. Race is something that, like love, 
should never be told; never seek to tell thy race, race that never told 
should be . . . The Race Relations Board to-day, and the racially con- 
scious English in India in the days of the Raj, are alike offenders in this 
respect 

As the voyage proceeded, I noticed a strange transformation in my 
fellow-passengers. They had come aboard as more or less ordinary 
middle- or lower-middle-class English, with perhaps, in the second class, 
the latter preponderating. Now they were changing, the men becoming 
more assertive, the ladies more la-di-da; as it were, moving farther and 
farther away from Bournemouth and Bexhill and nearer and nearer to 
Memsahib status and invitations to Government House. Luncheon 
was tiffin, a whisky and soda a chota peg, and instead of calling for a 
steward, the cry was: ‘Boy!’ By Port Said the change was complete; 
those who had topees brought them out, and those of us who hadn't 
went ashore and bought one at a shop called Simon Artz. I acquired an 
enormous white one, very heavy, such as the Marines wear, that needed 
to be cleaned with pipe-clay from time to time. It was a preposterous 
headgear, which I carried about with me but rarely put on my head, 
though the direst warnings were given me of what would happen if I 
neglected to protect my European pate from the Asian sun. This 
mystique of the topee was universally accepted during the Raj; it was 
the badge of the Sahib, and cultivated by all his imitators and aspirants, 
whether Anglo-Indians or westernised Indians. Among Europeans in 
India the belief was almost universally held that to expose their heads 
to the sun even for a few minutes would have disastrous consequences; 
I have known them, when a group photograph was being taken, keep 
their topees on till just before the camera was going to click, then put 
them under their seats, pulling them out and putting them back on their 
heads the moment the picture was taken. Now that the Raj is 
over, practically no one wears a topee, with no ill consequences. It 



96 The Green Stick 

is an interesting example of how medical lore, like trade, follows the 
flag. 

Wherever our ship put in now, we were met by a launch flying the 
Union Jack, with British officers aboard. This, of course, fitted in well 
with the changed personas of the passengers who, it seemed to me, 
almost visibly swelled with pride. For the first time I became aware of 
the British Empire, not just as a lot of red on the map, nor as a mystique 
to enthuse over or deride on Empire Day, but as a geographical and 
political entity. In this part of the world, it was clear, we were the lords 
of creation - a role which the great majority of my fellow-countrymen, 
from private soldiers to captains and kings with no intention of depart- 
ing, found highly acceptable. The whole imperial set-up has disappeared 
so quickly and completely that one looks back on it now with a kind of 
wonder that it should ever have existed, but at the time it seemed very 
solidly based and durable. In the dining saloon one evening I was 
severely rebuked by the Ordnance man - who had blossomed more than 
most of them into a Burra Sahib - for saying that the British Empire, 
like any other, would have its day, and that its end might well be nearer 
than many now supposed. There was no one except the piano-tuner - 
who came out rather equivocally on my side -who found this pro- 
position acceptable, on however long a view. They were one and all 
certain that the Empire would go on for ever; its bounds being set 
wider still and wider, and God who had made us mighty going on 
making us mightier yet, indefinitely. A view that was held at that time, 
I should suppose, pretty well universally on P & O boats ferrying to 
and fro between the Mother Country and her colonies, dependencies 
and dominions. 

My own reaction was as predictable as that of Bunyan’s Pilgrim to 
Vanity Fair. To my father and his friends, the Empire was a bare-faced 
system of exploitation, and the imperial idea additional opium of the 
people to supplement the dwindling soporific effect induced by religion. 
Though my father did once say to me that he had happened to see a 
British battleship come into Gibraltar Harbour, and that the sight had 
given him emotions of pride rather than reminding him of the old 
familiar equation of how many hospitals, schools and lidos the money 
it cost would have provided. I might easily have reacted in the same 
sort of way when confronted with the pomp and circumstance of im- 
perial power, except that I was vaguely aware that its glory was already 
passing. There was something unconvincing about the Ordnance man 
as a custodian of Empire; even about the little launches as they shot 



Twilight of Empire 97 

out from the shore. I sensed -or thought I did -a process of de- 
composition at work behind the facade of unity and strength that the 
Empire still presented to the world. Though ostensibly bigger and 
stronger than it had ever been as a result of the acquisitions of territory 
in the Versailles peace settlement, it was somehow shaky about the 
knees; a little breathless going uphill, a little trembly about the hands. 
Like Pavlova, when I saw her dance in Swan Lake in Cairo shortly be- 
fore she died as magnificently turned out as ever, as accomplished as 
ever, but just a little tremulous when she was up on her toes and about 
to be whirled around by her partner. 

Of course, at the time, it was no more than a vague feeling that, 
despite a crescendo of imperial sentiments, ranging between high- 
minded Round Table prospectuses for English-speaking orchestration, 
Rhodes Scholarship pieties, and Kipling doggerel; with General Smuts 
devising his holier than thou philosophy of Holism, and Geoffrey 
Dawson, alias Robinson, or vice versa, in and out of The Times , and 
Lord Beaverbrook throwing his own gilded spanner into the works - 
despite all this, the Empire itself was running down. As is now clear, 
Imperialism only arose as a doctrine w r hen the Empire was already in 
decline; as it is the sick who are obsessed with their bodies, the impotent 
with their virility, and the faithless with their faith. In any case, whatever 
gloss may be attempted, the glories of imperial power are threadbare 
and tawdry. Hence, the pomp and circumstance. As Pascal says, judges 
need their wigs and robes, priests their vestments, scholars their gowns - 
for that matter, hippies their long hair and fancy dress; otherwise, the 
fraudulence of their pretentions would be all too apparent. Similarly, 
the British Raj needed majestic titles, and silver thrones, and ceremonial 
durbars. In my years of journalism - a sort of voyeur role - 1 have never 
seen authority that did not give off a whiff of decay, or power that was 
not sawdust-stuffed, or glamour without grease-paint. That White 
House smile! That Kremlin glower! That Downing Street you-know- 
you-can-trust-me look! In the immortal words of the producer to the 
floor-manager when one of the Nixon commercials was being recorded 
in the Presidential Election of 1968: ‘Keep the witch-hazel handy; we 
can’t do the sincerity bit if he’s sweating.’ 

On those long voyages one came to accept liner life as normal. Waking 
in the morning to the ship’s sway, watching its silver wake at night 
before going to bed; the stars so very near, and enveloped in darkness 
like velvet. Bells punctuating the day, calling one to meals; the engines 
endlessly chugging and churning, like time inexorably ticking away. 

C.W.T.— o 



98 The Green Stick 

The walks up and down the deck, an eye perhaps alert for one of the 
prettier young wives on her way to join her husband; or a fiancee going 
to get married, with golden dreams set to the music of the Indian Love 
Lyrics - Tale hands I love, beside the Shalimar , - tinkled out on a 
thousand upright pianos in a thousand sitting-rooms. Matins in the 
first-class dining saloon, to which we second-class passengers were 
admitted for the occasion, and Jacob permitted to officiate in a minor 
capacity, surplice and hood prudently stowed in Wanted-on-Voyage 
luggage. Passengers getting to know one another, chatting, gossiping, 
amorous or quarrelsome together; and the sea all round us always, like 
eternity, with our little ship-encompassed world cruising through it as 
our little atmosphere-encompassed earth cruises through space. The 
past written on water by our stem, our prow nosing into the future, 
and no present at all. 

I hate to think how many hundreds of thousands of miles this 
ridiculous carcass of mine has been carted about the world for one reason 
and another. As the years have passed, the carriers have grown faster 
and faster. Five weeks from Tilbury to Colombo; then five days from 
Delhi to London, with night-stops along the way, sometimes at mysteri- 
ous desert stockades. Then flying boats following the African coast, 
hovering over jungle, and slithering down on to great stretches of 
muddy river water. Wartime flying fortresses, lying racked among the 
kit-bags in the fuselage. Then the stratocruisers, then the jets; faster 
than sound, faster than light, until our whole earth, and all its beauties 
and its wonders, can be encompassed in one piercing supersonic shriek. 
Distance annihilated, and the world with it. Bull-dozed away by the 
runway- and road-makers; jet-deafened, oil-drenched, smog-smothered; 
its inside gouged out like Prometheus’s entrails. Trampled to death by 
stampeding travellers, consumed by curiosity’s ravening eye, stung by 
cameras click-clicking and flashing like dragonflies. Where the rainbow 
ends; where the runway disappears and the motorways intersect. I 
cannot say that I myself derived any evident benefit from participating 
in this dance of death. Taj Mahal unvisited, Madura Temple with 
golden dome unseen, sphinx and pyramids barely noticed, Arctic 
splendours briefly glimpsed through a crack in a Boeing’s shutter. 
‘We’re now flying over Samarkand at a height of ... at a speed of . . .* 
Where are you, Samarkand? What memories I must have of Peking, 
Celestial City! Of Katmandu where the junkies roam! Bring me my 
home Kine of burnished gold; bring me my transparencies of desire! 
Where are we now, air-hostess? Laying an extra coat of red on lips 



Twilight of Empire 99 

tired with smiling, she looks at her watch. ‘We’ll be landing at La 
Guardia in . . . minutes’ time.’ Travel narrows the mind. 

So we chugged on, through the Suez Canal, where I noticed on the 
left bank a train arriving at a station, and the passengers getting out to 
cross to the other side of the Canal to catch another train that was 
waiting for them there; as it might be Clapham Junction. A weird 
enough little group to be discovered in the desert, consisting mostly of 
men in suits and trilby hats, carrying briefcases, some of them with 
umbrellas as well. Nothing, it seemed, could stop men with briefcases 
making their way about the world. So far, it must be admitted, nothing 
has. Then on into the Red Sea, where we celebrated Christmas Day. 
After we had finished our Christmas dinner, the Ordnance man - a 
shade more portentous than usual after a bottle of champagne - made a 
speech in which he spoke of the various services and professions 
represented in our second-class saloon, finishing up with: ‘Not forget- 
ting the education corps,’ meaning me. The piano-tuner, who had also 
drunk a lot of champagne, applauded rapturously, and shortly after- 
wards fell asleep. It was a relief to arrive at Colombo, say good-bye to 
the passengers, and go ashore. 

In Colombo I stayed with some kindly missionaries, and spent most 
of my time wandering aimlessly about the streets; as I nearly always do 
when I find myself at a loose end in a strange town. Just drifting along 
and watching faces as they pass, one of them myself; enjoying a kind of 
anonymous intimacy with all the others, yet separate from them, 
inviolate. Such a variety of faces and expressions! Whiskers and beards 
sprouting, eyes hooded or smiling; faces taut or withdrawn, or - as so 
many are in India - full of fathomless patience which is very beautiful 
and touching. Sometimes a face of rare serenity, so that you want to 
stop and offer thanks for it there and then. Or a face stamped with a 
lustrous beauty; momentarily glimpsed, then gone for ever. Or a 
beggar’s face whining and cringing, mutely exposing sores or deform- 
ities, or holding up for inspection a wizened stunted child. Then, in 
passing rickshaws, with bells tinkling and the pat, pat of human feet 
sounding, some massive bearded merchant lost in his own thoughts 
and stratagems. Or a topee’d clerk or official. Or a minor Memsahib 
on her way to the Club. The unforgettable smell of spices, cow-dung, 
sweating flesh; the flies, the confused shouts; the little shops like opera 
boxes, exuding their own smells and tinkling sounds. A shoe-maker 
gravely intent on his work, with wrinkled brow and meditative face, 
like a philosopher. A pastry-cook, shining with the heat of his oven, 



ioo The Green Stick 

arranging the delicacies he has made. A grain merchant dozing, with 
open sacks of rice, a shovel and scales ready to hand. A jeweller sitting, 
inscrutable, among his bracelets and trinkets and necklaces; as it might 
be some Maharajah’s vizier or treasurer. A cloth-merchant with silks 
and brocades under his eye, quietly observant of any who come to 
look at them. And, as one passes, the whispered persuasion to come and 
buy, however seemingly hopeless the proposition. As though I should 
want a tortoise-shell comb to put in black silken hair! Or a little silver 
box for holding betel and lime! 

From the moment of landing in Colombo, I was made conscious of 
my status as a Sahib. It was like suddenly inheriting a peerage and being 
addressed as My Lord. Just by virtue of being English and white, if 
you went to buy a ticket at a railway station, people made way for you. 
Similarly, in a shop. It was very insidious. At first I found it embarrass- 
ing and distasteful; then, though I continued to ridicule it, I came to 
count upon receiving special treatment. Finally, when for some reason 
it was not accorded, there was an impulse to become sulky and irritated. 
From that it is but a small step to shouting and insisting, as, in the days 
of the Raj, I saw happen often enough. Our position in India as a ruling 
race corrupted all concerned; soldiers - and other ranks just as much as 
officers, if not more so - missionaries, government officials, planters, 
business men, wives and children; everyone. It also corrupted the 
Indians, whether they kissed the rod and accepted a position of sub- 
servience, or whether they rebelled against it. Though alien rule can 
sometimes be more efficient and honest than self-government, it is 
bound ultimately to become deleterious to rulers and ruled alike. We 
accept bad government - we have to - but find it more bearable from 
our own kith and kin than from foreigners. The absurdity is to suppose 
that self-government, as such, is otherwise beneficent; that replacing a 
buffoonish colonial governor with a feathered hat by an equally buffoon- 
ish Jomo Kenyatta with a fly-switch, or white bully-boys by black ones, 
represents any moral or - as the World Council of Churches, that pons 
asinorum of all Christian endeavour, appears to suppose - spiritual 
advance. India without the Raj is, in this respect, in no way a better, 
or worse, place. The only essential difference is that the Sahibs are now 
brown instead of white. 

There remained nonetheless the moral dilemmas with which life in 
India constantly confronted a reluctant Sahib in my time there. Take, 
for instance, the rickshaw. This horrible conveyance, invented, I believe, 
by a missionary in Japan, was often the only sort available; as I found 



Twilight of Empire ioi 

when I went on from Colombo to Kandy to visit Trinity College, a 
boys’ school. When I arrived at the railway station, the rickshaw coolies 
surged forward; I chose one of them who seemed a shade more muscular 
than the others, and got gingerly, with my luggage, into his rickshaw. 
As he hauled me along, I watched with fascination a patch of sweat on 
his shirt steadily expanding, until it occupied almost the whole of hi3 
back. At the same time, I could hear him panting more and more 
heavily, especially as we began to climb up to Trinity College, which 
stands on a hill. Finally I could stand it no longer, and shouted to him 
to stop. He took this to mean that I was dissatisfied with the speed we 
were making, and quickened his pace. Thereupon I shouted louder, 
and managed at last to make him understand that I wanted to get down. 
Thenceforth, he pulled the rickshaw with my luggage in it and my white 
topee perched rather absurdly on top of the luggage, while I trailed 
along behind on foot, feeling self-consciously virtuous but also aware 
that a patch of sweat was forming and growing now on my shirt where 
the hot sun beat down on my back. In this way we arrived at the college, 
where a row immediately broke out as to how much I should pay. This 
was settled when my host, the acting-Principal, took the matter in hand. 
Thenceforth, except in extremis , I never took a rickshaw, which greatly 
annoyed the rickshaw coolies, who relied on an occasional Sahib’s 
inflated fare to augment their meagre earnings. In Simla the situation 
was particularly difficult because motor-cars were forbidden there 
except for the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief (they still are 
restricted to two or three very senior officials), while the roads were so 
steep that, notoriously, the rickshaw coolies all died young of heart 
failure. 

Once, when I was crossing the Perriar River by the ferry at Alwayc, 
there was a rickshaw on it, accommodating a very large Indian, with a 
very meagre one at the pulling end. A colleague from the College who 
was with me overheard someone on the ferry remark: ‘Look, there’s 
one man pulling another along. And they say there’s a Godl’ Such re- 
marks stay in my mind more tenaciously than speeches at the Royal 
Empire (now Commonwealth) Society, or fulminations against injustice 
and inequality, including my own, in progressive publications. I wish 
they didn’t. My inadequacy as a sightseer is illustrated by the fact that 
every detail of the Kandy rickshaw ride is indelibly imprinted on my 
mind, to the point that now, forty-eight years later, I could draw the 
shape of the patch of sweat on the rickshaw coolie’s back; whereas, 
when I visited the famous Buddhist Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, it 



102 The Green Stick 

made so little impression on me that now I cannot remember any single 
thing about it 

Trinity College proved to be one of those transplanted public schools 
which were instituted in most parts of the Empire when it was flourish- 
ing. The boys wore blazers, played rugger, sang English songs and 
hymns heartily, though in fairly cracked tones because of the different 
scale in their own Indian music; took cold showers, and were taught to 
be manly and speak the truth. The idea was that thereby an elite would 
be produced capable of leading their countrymen in the paths of right- 
eousness while being loyal to the Raj. Actually, such institutions tended 
to turn out what were known then as subversives, and subsequently as 
national heroes. Despite -or perhaps because of -Trinity College, 
Ceylon was one of the first Commonwealth countries to have a quasi- 
Communist government; Achimoto in Ghana, an offshoot of Trinity 
College, incubated Nkrumah, as Harrow did Nehru. Worthy endeavour 
with an interested motive nearly always results in the exact opposite of 
what was intended. Thus, education aimed at producing literates for 
industry produces illiterates for anarchy. The more motorways the 
more accidents, the more psychiatrists the more lunacy; hypochondria 
burgeons with the health service, and delinquency with remedial 
prisons. Evensong in Trinity College Chapel, I found, was an exact 
reproduction of the same service in any English public school or 
college. I was to live to see the situation in reverse, with white hippies 
in saffron robes and with shaven heads chanting mantras along Fifth 
Avenue, and Allan Ginsberg giving a rendering of ‘Hare Krishna* to 
the accompaniment of his hand harmonium in a Chicago law court. 

I had vaguely assumed that, to get to Alwaye, all I should have to do 
would be to go to the railway station and buy a ticket there. It turned 
out to be a complicated journey by boat, bus and train. A Sahib travelling 
third class was something of a rarity in those days, unless he belonged 
to the Salvation Army or some other lesser Christian sect without the 
law. It was pretty uncomfortable and harassing, but also oddly gay and 
exhilarating. The carriage packed to suffocation; everyone chattering 
away, and spitting on the floor; from time to time partaking of highly 
spiced and highly smelling refreshments, of which I was offered a taste. 
As a Sahib in a suit, with luggage that, by Indian standards, was 
munificent, I was a subject of curiosity. Where was I going? What was 
I doing? How much money did I earn? How many children did I have? - 
such questions, put in broken fragmentary English. At a venture, I said 
I earned one hundred rupees a month (which turned out to be just 



Twilight of Empire 103 

about what I did earn at the Union Christian College, plus free accom- 
modation); in European terms, a minuscule salary, but in Indian terms 
quite substantial. When I said I had no children because I was not 
married, they looked sympathetic. One of the difficulties of the mission- 
aries of contraception who go about India preaching the gospel of 
birth-control, and distributing their coils and pessaries and pills as the 
early traders in Africa did coloured beads, sometimes even offering 
transistor radio sets in return for voluntary sterilisation, is precisely this 
attitude, obstinately maintained by village Indians, that children are a 
great blessing, and that to be sterile is to be accursed. No doubt they 
will learn in time as computers, television, supersonic bangs, James 
Bond and other intimations of civilisation reach them. 

When I think of India, as I often do, it is such scenes as travelling in a 
third-class railway carriage that come into my mind. Or sailing with the 
fishermen at Cape Comorin, in a boat made just of two logs fastened 
together. ‘Look what a strange white fish I’ve caught!’ my boatman 
shouts to the others. Or going to bathe in the evenings. So many other 
bodies standing in the shallow river water, just letting the water lap 
over them; then bending down to cup it in the hands to pour it over 
themselves. All this to the thud, thud of clothes being beaten clean. Or 
waiting before dawn for a bus. Along it comes, with flickering lights, 
and all the passengers asleep; but still a place for me beside the driver. 
Off we go again, roaring and rattling along, through dark, silent villages, 
raising clouds of dust, barked at by dogs, driving stray cows out of our 
way. I sit watching for the dawn, for the first grey streaks of light in the 
sky. As the grey light spreads, the shapes of houses become discernible, 
figures stretching and yawning, the kindling of lights. And in the sky 
now a fabulous brightness breaking; like the beginning of the world - 
Fiat Lux\ Such a golden, luminous glory! Such a beautiful coolness, 
faintly misty, preparing us for the leaden heat to cornel Our passengers 
are beginning to wake up, rubbing their eyes, looking around them. 
Where are they? Who are they? The driver and I have a mild altercation 
- his lips red with betel, his eyes clouded and bloodshot from fatigue. 
He wants to charge me twice the normal fare; I protest, but he insists, 
explaining that I am sitting in the first class. Then where’s the second 
class? I ask. Wherever you sit is first class, he counters. At this sally we 
both begin to laugh, and I pay up. At the next stop he brings me a 
glass of tea and a banana, which I gratefully accept. 

They were all so poor; they all had so very little. Anyone from the 



104 The Green Stick 

West was a sort of millionaire by comparison; even nuns and monks 
and vagrants. When floods came, and they had to leave their homes, 
they could comfortably carry all they possessed on their heads; a tin 
box, a mat, some cooking vessels; no more. Yet this very penury pro- 
vided a kind of protection against the plastic world of the twentieth 
century. They had no sales potential; the siren voices recommending 
eating this, wearing that, urging them to consume, consume, would be 
wasted on their air. Their poverty immunised them against the chief 
sickness of the age. Perhaps it is in this that the blessedness of the poor - 
the least appreciated of the Beatitudes to-day - resides. In the first- and 
second-class railway carriages, on the other hand, in which Sahibs 
normally travelled, one met the other India. Indians in khaki shorts, 
smoking pipes and carrying briefcases stuffed with papers to read along 
their way; topees that sat rather low on their heads; their speech so 
loaded with English words and phrases (‘coefficient*, ‘percentage*, 
‘overall*, ‘output* etc. etc.) that it was possible to follow much of their 
conversation even when they were speaking in Malayalam or Tamil. 
Already proficient at the new international language of administration 
and business - computer-speech-to-be. They were executive material; 
budding survey-men, sociology-fodder. In short, men of our time. 

The most convenient mode of travel in Travancore itself was by 
boat through the salt backwaters which, like Norwegian fjords, intersect 
the country. In this way I arrived at Allepey in the evening, the solitary 
Sahib aboard. As the Indian passengers surged ashore, and I struggled 
with my bags, I wondered where I should go for the night before con- 
tinuing to Alwaye by train the next day. The noise, the darkness, the 
general air of excitement, of people arriving and being met, made it 
seem a rather wild and alien scene; the more so because the rickshaw 
coolies, when they saw me, all shouted with one accord: ‘T.B.l T.B.P At 
first I thought that perhaps they considered I looked tubercular, and 
their cry was a warning, like a leper’s bell. Then I somehow understood 
that what they were suggesting was that they should take me to the 
Traveller’s Bungalow which in those days was available for Europeans 
in places where there was no suitable local hotel. So there I was taken, 
and passed a comfortable night under a mosquito-net, having first been 
served an evening meal of curried chicken, rice and cr£me caramel; the 
almost invariable diet offered to Sahibs all over India. Subsequently, I 
grew very fond of sailing through the backwaters; preferably not on the 
regularly plying paddle-steamers, but on a hand-propelled boat, long 



Twilight of Empire 105 

and graceful, with coconut matting for protection against the sun. As 
the boatmen poled it along, walking up and dowm its length, they would 
chant with a weird haunting rhythm which fitted their movements. It 
was somehow very beautiful, with coconut palms along the banks, and 
houses on stilts, and little villages appearing and disappearing, and 
children racing along and shouting. Then, at night, lying in the bottom 
of the boat, lulled to sleep by its motion, peeping out occasionally at the 
bright stars and the moon-drenched water, the night settling round one 
like velvet. Conscious then of being an atom of life among innumerable 
other atoms. Momentarily separate, like drops of spray caught in sun- 
light; existing separately for an instant or two, then falling back into 
the sea whence they came. 

Alwaye, when I arrived there, turned out to be a smallish place, 
little more than a village, though with a large Roman Catholic college 
dominating the view from the railway station. Now it has become quite a 
centre of new industries. I was met and taken to the Union Christian 
College some three miles away. To get there we had to cross over the 
Perriar River by ferry. The College was on top of a stony hill, the stone 
reddish in colour, looking over the river; a cluster of buildings barely 
finished, in one of which, a students* hostel, I had a room furnished 
with a bed and a table and chair and an oil lamp. There was also a 
primitive shower and a lavatory of sorts. Though the term had not yet 
begun, some of the students were already in residence, and gathered 
round in a semi-circle to watch me unpack. Their steady gaze was a 
little unnerving, and in their white mundus , with their dark faces and, 
in the case of the Brahmins, weird hair-dos, they had a strange air, 
especially as they maintained total silence, only smiling when I addressed 
them. This, as I found out afterwards, was because they could not 
understand my way of speaking English, having learnt the language - 
in so far as they could be said to have learnt it - from Indian teachers. 
It turned out that I had turned up sooner than expected; Holland, who, 
with his newly married second wife, occupied a mission house in 
Alwaye, had not yet returned from his Christmas holiday; Lester 
Hooper, another Englishman who was joining the staff, was due to 
arrive in a few days* time. Thus, no arrangements in the way of setting 
up meals and so on for me had been made. I suppose my situation in 
this remote place, where, of course, it was very hot and humid, with 
no one I could turn to for advice as to how to settle myself in, might be 
regarded as somewhat disconcerting. I cannot recall that I felt it 
so. 



lo6 The Green Stick 

My life at Alwaye soon got into a sort of routine. I had a servant, or 
bearer, named Kuruvella, who brought me tea early, about six o'clock. 
Then I would go for a swim in the river. It was rather muddy, though 
sometimes a strong current was flowing. Already the students would be 
washing and squatting about the hillside. After breakfast, classes began. 
My subject was English, and my sheet-anchor was a book known as 
Little Dowden, a brief history of English Literature by a Victorian 
clergyman of that name. There is, I believe, a Big Dowden, but I am 
happy to say I have never even had it in my hands. From Little Dowden 
I was able to hold forth about, say, the Lake Poets, or Milton, or 
Restoration comedy; indeed, on almost any theme in the Eng. Lit. 
rubric. Little Dowden provided not only the information but often the 
actual phrases I used. Thus I would say, as though it had just occurred 
to me: ‘Dryden found English brick and left it marble.' The students 
would copy this down, and no doubt find some means of bringing it in, 
whatever the question, when they came to sit their examinations. They 
copied down pretty well everything I said, and afterwards learnt it by 
heart, so that one could actually hear them chanting it like some weird 
liturgy as they walked up and down- ‘Dryden found English brick 
and left it marble . . . found English marble . . . left it brick . . .' 

There were also set texts that had to be fought through, sentence by 
sentence, and sometimes word by word. On this basis, I went through 
Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies , Macbeth and Wuthering Heights , the last 
being the most painful because totally incomprehensible to the students. 
The sides of the classroom were open, as is the way with buildings in 
South India; as we droned on together, we could see the bright green 
paddy fields, and watch people working in them, treading round 
bamboo irrigation wheels which made them look like inflated daddy- 
long-legs, or bending in rows over the earth, singing as they worked. 
Looking at them from our classroom, I felt at times an almost physical 
anguish at being so preposterously engaged; at spending the daylight 
hours in so derisory a way. 4 “There’s nothing serious in mortality" - 
that means, in our mortal or earthly existence.' The students' solemn 
faces were staring at me, drinking in the words; then bent to write 
them down. 4 “All is but toys: renown and grace is dead" - Macbeth is 
saying that, after the murder of Duncan, everything seems trivial, like 
playthings.' Again the dark eyes look up uncomprehendingly, the pencils 
scratch. 4 “The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees/Is left this 
vault to brag of",' I declaim: then lamely add: The image is taken from 
a cask of wine, stored in a vault, the wine being, as we say, drawn, 



Twilight of Empire 107 

leaving behind the lees/ Nothing serious in mortality - I waited for 
them to finish their scribbling, and then continued. 

Examinations, for the students, represented the climax of their 
studies, the point of the whole operation; having once procured the 
requisite qualification, they could forget for ever the sorry, tedious 
business of learning, whose purpose would then have been achieved. 
They studied past questions with feverish intensity, making use of what 
were called ‘Made Easies’; poorly printed, paper-backed volumes on 
sale wherever there were institutions of higher education, which pur- 
ported to contain all possible permutations and combinations in a 
particular subject, with a guarantee that, if thoroughly mastered, they 
made a pass certain. There were Made Easies to be absorbed over a 
three months’ period before taking the examination; even, in desperate 
cases, over a two weeks’ period. The students addressed themselves to 
these Made Easies as the fateful day approached, tackling them in the 
only way they knew - by committing them to memory. I almost got to 
know them myself from hearing them said over and over late into the 
night. Mastering the three-months’ version, still more the two-weeks’ 
one, required a prodigious effort, and there was the danger that at the 
examination itself the information acquired might be in too concen- 
trated a form to be readily disgorged. Wild-eyed and desperate with the 
effort, unshaven, distracted, the students might have been engaged in 
some strange obsessive cult or debauch. 

In the case of other subjects some genuine interest may have been 
aroused, but in mine - the study of an alien literature in an alien tongue 
- there was none that I was able to discern. About the worst thing the 
British did to India, apart from introducing a totally unsuitable and 
farcically inefficient Westminster-style system of universal suffrage 
parliamentary government, was the educational system they foisted on 
the country; which still, incidentally, goes on, though now the English 
used has departed so drastically from the original as to be almost 
totally incomprehensible. That may, in a way, represent an improve- 
ment, in that it precludes any possible deviation into sense. I like to 
think that when the Raj at last ended, among the articles hurled after 
the departing Sahibs were at least a few Little Dowdens, as well as an 
occasional copy of Sesame and Lilies } The Mill on the Floss and the 
Oxford Book of English Verse . 

Most of the students were Syrian Christians, for whom the College 
primarily existed. The records of their Church go back to the fourth 
century, and they claim that it was founded by St Thomas at the 



108 The Green Stick 

beginning of the Christian era. In the succeeding centuries it went 
through all the same sort of ups and downs and schisms as the Western 
churches, producing a similar crop of contending prelates - in its case, 
Archimandrites and Patriarchs - and for some sixty years, during the 
period of Portuguese domination, was forcibly incorporated in the 
Church of Rome. This fragmentation was made worse by Christian 
missionaries from many denominations in Europe and America who 
found the Syrian Christians a happier hunting-ground than the Hindus 
and the Moslems in other parts of India. The chief inspirer of the Union 
Christian College, K. C. Chacko, hoped that it would bring together all 
Syrian Christians, enabling them to find a basis for co-operation, if not 
for unity. There was a single chapel at the College for all to worship in, 
and under Chacko’s aegis the different sectarians managed to establish 
harmonious relations. He was a man of great spiritual perception, with 
a high forehead, and a voice with a soft rich timbre, a sort of glow at 
the heart of it. I got in the way of often sitting with him on the balcony 
outside his room while he ate his evening meal, consisting, usually, of 
two huge bananas. Being a sufferer from tuberculosis - a common 
complaint in that humid, sultry climate - he had to live a semi-invalid 
life, though a very austere one. He always worked at a desk standing up 
to concentrate his attention the better. Alas, the cause he devoted him- 
self to so fervently remains unrealised; the College has flourished, 
certainly, in the sense that it has steadily grown bigger, and more 
reputable academically, but the divisions and factions among the 
Syrian Christians still persist; the rival Patriarchs and Archimandrites 
bicker and contend, and, as is happening to all religions and denomina- 
tions everywhere, the congregations grow smaller, and the faith of 
those who still belong to them, weaker. 

The students themselves, apart from a few notably pious ones, were 
not much interested in Chacko’s vision of Syrian Christian unity; their 
primary concern being to take a degree and get into Government 
employment, which at that time offered pretty well the only openings 
for graduates. Before long, there were many more graduates than 
openings, but still the passion for higher education continued unabated, 
with the result that unemployed graduates multiplied, constituting a 
natural field of recruitment for the Independence, or Swaraj, Move- 
ment. Thus, the higher education facilities which the Government of 
India provided, in the early days of the Raj with a view to procuring a 
ready supply of cheap clerical labour (Government clerks were known 



Twilight of Empire 109 

in those days as ‘writers’), in practice produced the shock troops who 
played so important a role in bringing the Raj to an end. 

I did everything in my power to stimulate the nationalist fervour of 
the students, seeing myself as a Garibaldi or Byron come among them to 
help them recover the freedom that was their birthright, and that 
British rule had taken from them. The cheers of students, anyway, are 
sweet in the ear, and easily procured, as many an aspiring politician 
and demagogic don has discovered. As I learnt subsequently, I was not 
much older than the students myself (though some of them were older 
than they seemed, prudent mothers, with an eye to future examinations, 
having quite often faked the date of birth of their offspring to give them 
a year or so in hand), and well primed with a romantic adulation of 
rebels and rebellion. I adopted Indian dress, wore kadi - the homespun 
cloth which Gandhi advocated - tortured myself by sitting cross-legged 
on the ground and sleeping without a mattress; risked catching hook- 
worm by walking barefoot, and ate Indian food off a plantain leaf with 
my hands, acquiring some facility at moulding rice into little balls and 
aiming them neatly into my mouth. I even managed to simulate certain 
characteristic Indian gestures; as spreading out my hands with a look of 
profound disgust to indicate that I did not want another helping, or 
shaking my head from side to side instead of nodding up and down, to 
signify agreement. 

A visit to the College by Gandhi in the course of a tour of Travancore 
gave a great impetus to Swarajist sentiment among the students and 
staff. I went down to the railway station to see him arrive; a vast crowd, 
at least ten thousand strong, had already assembled there. They had 
trudged in on foot from surrounding villages, nearly all of them peasants; 
in some cases, whole families. I wondered what had drawn them, what 
exactly they expected to see. Their faces provided no clue; from their 
expressions they might just have been waiting for a train for themselves 
rather than for a Mahatma. Waiting, as Indians do, having no time- 
tables, with the utmost patience, sometimes all through the night, in the 
certainty that sooner or later a train would come in and take them to 
wherever they wanted to go. When Gandhi’s train came, there was a 
stir; but mostly among students from the College, while a little group 
of local notables who had brought garlands with them took up action 
stations. The others remained largely impassive. Gandhi was sitting 
cross-legged in a third-class compartment, his curious gargoyle face 
showing no special awareness of the crowd and the notables and the 
cheers of the students. When he stepped down on to the platform 



no The Green Stick 

there was a concerted movement to take the dust of his feet. All those 
thousands of people surging forward to get near enough to him just 
for that, to take his dust; then tramping back the miles they had come, 
padding silently along the dusty village tracks. Certainly, they were not 
Swarajist zealots; there was little enough of that in an Indian State like 
Travancore, where they had scarcely heard of the British Raj by the 
time it was over. Nor were they uplifted by Gandhi’s championship of 
cottage industries and hand-woven cloth; in their primitive economy, 
a spinning-wheel such as Gandhi recommended would have been as 
unattainable as a Rolls-Royce car. He drew them to him, I decided, 
because he gave them a feeling that they mattered; that they, too, 
existed in the scheme of things, and were not just helots, extras in a 
drama which did not concern them. This was why they saw him as a 
Mahatma, and took the dust of his feet. 

When Gandhi caught sight of some untouchables in a sort of roped- 
off enclosure, he went and joined them, and started singing with them 
what sounded like a rather lugubrious hymn, to the obvious conster- 
nation of the notables with the garlands. Later he addressed the students 
in the classroom where I took them through Little Dowden. But how 
different a scenel He spoke very quietly, in English, of which he had a 
subtle and discriminating command, but the effect on the students was 
terrific. They jumped up and down shouting ‘ Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jail 
Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai!\ their eyes glowing and the dreadful inertia 
of our excursion through Sesame and Lilies , our mournful celebration 
of Dryden finding English brick and leaving it marble, all obliterated 
and forgotten. I would scarcely have known them; they were trans- 
formed. In this case, of course, it teas nationalism that enthused them. 
Millions of editorial words, including my own little bucketfuls, thou- 
sands of columns of Hansard, scores of White Papers, Royal Com- 
mission Reports, Blue Books and other State documents later, their 
objective would be attained. The peasants who trudged in and out of 
Alwaye to take the dust of Gandhi’s feet would be trudging in and out 
of polling booths to vote for yoked oxen, a lotus flower or an umbrella; 
the Raj would be over, the Mahatma murdered, and India free, with a 
national anthem, a flag, an airline, a hydro-electric project, a seat at the 
UN, and other appurtenances of sovereignty. 

After Gandhi’s visit to the College I wrote him what was, I fear, an 
extremely impertinent letter, in which I argued that he would be better 
employed in promoting the socialisation of India’s economy rather than 
in trying to persuade his countrymen to prefer a hand-spinning wheel 



Twilight of Empire hi 

to a mechanical loom. Industrialism had come to stay, and it was futile 
to take a Canute attitude, and try to hold it back in India; what the 
Indian worker needed was better living conditions and contraceptives 
to keep down the size of his family. Standard claptrap at the time, and 
still more so to-day. Gandhi replied courteously and at some length, 
though I thought evasively, and published the correspondence in the 
weekly magazine Young India he brought out in Ahmedabad. He also 
published an address I delivered in the College chapel calling on the 
students to rise up against the Raj, since nothing could go well for them 
culturally, economically or politically until they had ceased to be a 
subject people. Afterwards, a fellow-member of the staff whispered to 
me that men had served terms of imprisonment for saying less. Rather 
to my disappointment, the authorities either never heard of my vapour- 
ings or, if they did, decided, quite rightly, that they were of no im- 
portance, requiring no response on their part. 

Gandhi’s views, of course, were based on some of the same basic 
texts as my father’s - Ruskin, Tolstoy, and the New Testament con- 
sidered as a statement of ethics rather than of faith. He left out Marx, 
it is true, and included the Bhagavad Gita , but the resultant mixture 
was not so very different, and likewise appealed to Quakers who, when 
he was in England, formed a sort of non-violent bodyguard round him. 
At the time of the Round Table Conference I saw him in a nest of them 
at Friends’ House. His face had changed from how I remembered it at 
Alwaye; it now somehow looked crafty and calculating. By this time he 
had become one of the gurus of the age, along with figures like Albert 
Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell (later to be joined by Che Guevara, 
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X) for all of whose plastic busts 
there was a ready sale. His bizarre turn-out - the loin-cloth, the spec- 
tacles, the watch with a large face pinned to his person - had become as 
familiar as Charlie Chaplin’s big boots, baggy trousers and tiny bowler. 
Through his dominance of the Swaraj Movement he was able to impose 
on it, as an actual programme, the notions he had derived from Tolstoy 
and Ruskin and the New Testament, so that leading Swarajist des- 
peradoes felt bound to sit at their spinning-wheels for a daily stint, 
wear kadi and profess non-violence - very unconvincingly, it must be 
admitted. I have myself heard Gandhi leading some of them in a barely 
intelligible version of ‘Lead Kindly Light’, his favourite hymn. Despite 
their ostensible adherence to similar notions, the farthest the Labour 
Party bosses went in this direction was to sing Blake’s ‘New Jerusalem’ 
on particular occasions, and drop occasional asides to the effect that if 



1 12 The Green Stick 

Christ came back to earth he’d assuredly be crucified again. One of the 
more bizarre consequences of the association of India and England 
through the Raj was that, not only Gandhi’s homespun, Quakerish 
predilections, but the whole ideology of the British Left, came to be 
adopted by the Swarajists, so that when their cause triumphed this 
ideology automatically became the conventional wisdom of the new 
Indian Government and ruling class. It is true that during the struggle 
for independence, the example of Ireland was preponderant; I have a 
precious memory of a cracked rendering of ‘The Wearing o’ the Green’ 
under the relentless glare of the Cawnpore sun - a companion piece to 
Gandhi’s ‘Lead Kindly Light’. When independence was achieved, how- 
ever, and Nehru became the first Indian Prime Minister, it was 
editorials he had read in progressive publications like the New Statesman 
and the Manchester Guardian which provided the basis for his domestic 
and foreign policy. By a weird accident of history, some four hundred 
million Asians were thus harnessed to the confused thoughts and 
fluctuating loyalties of old-style English Leftists like Kingsley Martin, 
Harold Laski and Pethick-Lawrence. What on its home ground was 
regarded as being, at best, an acceptable irritant, to be pushed aside the 
moment a government of the Left took office, became in India the only 
evident alternative to the Thoughts of Chairman Mao. 

In the evenings, when it was a little cooler, I usually went for a walk. 
The road I took, up beyond the College and in between the paddy fields, 
was nearly always crowded. There were cattle being driven home and 
a particular man I always looked for driving along a flock of geese, 
waving a thin, supple stick over them very delicately to keep them to- 
gether; like the conductor of an orchestra. Bullock carts with sleepy 
drivers flicking at the bullocks, often a whole family huddled inside; 
solitary nondescript pedestrians, a file of women coming in from the 
fields moving with great grace in their coloured saris. Strange old hags 
with withered breasts and lined faces; an occasional bus loaded to the 
gills and stirring up a mighty dust; beggars, of course, dragging along 
elephantiasis-swollen limbs, or with bits chipped off them by leprosy, 
and children, and wandering cows. And a man I once saw proceeding 
in the most extraordinary way by falling down, reaching out his arm, 
marking the place, and then from there falling down again, and so on. 
He had, it seems, taken a vow to make his way in this manner, measuring 
his length in the dust, from Cape Comerin to the Himalayas. The 
estimated time it would take was ten years. At Alwaye he had barely 
started. 



Twilight of Empire 1 1 3 

Everyone stared curiously at me, a Sahib walking instead of riding; 
especially when the monsoon rain was falling, and I took off my shirt 
to let it fall coolly over my bare flesh. Indian roads were like rivers, 
always full and always in movement; all India flowed down them, bare 
feet endlessly falling and stirring up dust, golden in the setting sun. 
My particular road delighted me, particularly as darkness suddenly fell, 
going oddly silent, so that you could hear somewhere or other tiny bells 
ringing, and voices singing; then see lights coming out one after the 
other. Families gathering, work over, the day done; shadowy figures 
squatting, very still and meditative. Later, when the full darkness had 
fallen, pedestrians with hurricane lamps, looking like glow-worms, 
sometimes carrying a lighted faggot which they swung to and fro to 
keep it alight, so that one saw it rhythmically flaring up and dying 
down as they went along. Then, quite soon, sleeping figures stretched 
out on mats or bare bedsteads, or just on the ground. Sleeping with a 
curious abandonment peculiar to Indians; utterly still, so that they can 
sleep tranquilly through the night on a narrow ledge, scarcely wider 
than themselves, with no risk of falling off. 

When I got back from my walk I usually took another river bathe. 
There, too, stillness came with the evening; ablutions silently performed; 
the water silky or, if there was a moon, holding the moonlight like 
tangible sheets of luminosity on which one could lie like a raft. Beautiful 
Perriar River. This was an India I sensed, and even touched; utterly 
remote from Made Easies and Little Dowden; the splendid relic, as I 
felt, of a departed glory. Felt this with a kind of sadness, as though I 
knew that the vulgar destructive twentieth century was ravening near. 
Bulldozers on their way to bite into the ancient earth, dredgers and 
concrete-mixers to utilise the meandering rivers, diesel oil to belch out 
its exhaust over the shining backwaters, conveyor belts to disgorge 
plastic elegancies, replacing ancient heirloom vessels burnished and kept 
over the years. Wandering cows, creaky and bony and ready to chew at 
anything, even paper, all rounded up for extermination. Likewise, the 
thick-necked oxen, the sinewy fowl, the imperturbable goats. On the 
way, too, the family planners bringing the precious gift of fornication 
without tears; others bearing in their hands such delicacies as Tomato 
Ketchup, Peyton Place and after-shave lotion. Pill- and potion-makers 
with specifics for all ills, including political ones -in this field, 
remedies concocted afar; one-man-one-vote, majority rule, government 
of the people by the people for the people. Advertisers to unfold the 
secret of everlasting youth and beauty; of happiness without end, amen. 

C.W.T. — H 



1 14 The Green Stick 

It was all beginning even then, and somehow I sensed that this India I 
knew, which had miraculously survived Macaulay, Curzon and Rabin- 
dranath Tagore, was nearing its end. I felt a profound thankfulness at 
having known it. 

I spent a lot of my time at Alwaye in the staffroom which, like the class- 
rooms, had no sides to it. Outside, one could see the sun beating down, 
and if there was a breeze it blew pleasantly in. When the rains came, 
falling like sheets of metal, it was cooler; almost at times chilly. There 
would usually be one or two other staff members likewise loafing 
between classes, ready to gossip or chat or argue. We often took our 
midday meal together. Apart from teaching, I found I had plenty of 
leisure. Little Dowden was soon mastered, and I felt no inclination to 
pursue matters further. Most professional employment, in my experi- 
ence, leaves one similarly unstretched, containing, as it does, a large 
element of camouflaged parasitism. Those lavish luncheons on someone’s 
expense account, extending from preliminary drinks to a dreamlike 
return to one’s desk in the late afternoon; breath brandy-laden, and 
flakes of smoked salmon drooping from the comers of one’s mouth! 
That picking over of the lavish offerings of news-agency services; like 
walking with a plate round a well-stocked buffet, and choosing, now a 
slice of tasty pat6, now potato salad and eggs-in-aspicl Those army 
headquarters in some requisitioned palace or hotel, with majors dozing 
before in-trays, and colonels wrestling with their claims for field- 
allowance! Not really, properly speaking, work; though liable to be 
enervating. At Alwaye there were long empty spaces of time, which 
passed laggardly, stretched out on a bed, or staring uncomprehendingly 
at a printed page, or just staring out of a window - something to which 
I have always been prone. 

My out-of-class activities, such as they were, consisted of bringing 
out each term a college magazine and producing an occasional play. 
The magazine (I still have an issue or two) was all too typical of such 
publications; feebly facetious, with reports of games and other activities. 
Exactly in the style of any English school magazine. The plays I 
remember producing were James Elroy Flecker’s Hassan and Congreve’s 
The Way of the World . Looking back on these productions, the former 
seems the more abhorrent precisely because it was supposed to be 
‘Oriental’ in theme and diction; the latter merely absurd - Indian 
students in home-made wigs trying to be Restoration gallants. I felt a 
kind of inner shame and rage about all this. As I dimly realised, a 



Twilight of Empire 1 1 5 

people can be laid waste culturally as well as physically; not their 
lands but their inner life, as it were, sown with salt. This is what 
happened to India. An alien culture, itself exhausted, become trivial and 
shallow, was imposed upon them; when we went, we left behind rail- 
ways, schools and universities, statues of Queen Victoria and other of our 
worthies, industries, an administration, a legal system; all that and much 
more, but set in a spiritual wasteland. We had drained the country of 
its true life and creativity, making of it a place of echoes and mimicry. 
Some four decades after these lamentable Alwaye productions, in Delhi 
I recorded a television interview with Nehru, and found myself irresist- 
ibly recalling them. He, too, I felt, partook of the same hollowness. A 
man of echoes and mimicry; the last Viceroy rather than the first leader 
of a liberated India. While our conversation was being recorded, one of 
the attendant guards fell noisily asleep, so that his snores punctuated 
our words as we spoke them. It seemed an appropriate accompaniment. 
A few months later I heard that Nehru had died. 

In the evenings at Alwaye I sat with a pen in my hand and paper 
before me. Moisture from one’s fingers was liable to smudge the ink; 
the lamp, no Alexandrian pharos, gave a meagre light, and buzzed with 
flying insects. Trying to coax out of the encircling sultry darkness, 
words. Oh, wordsl I have a folder, dim to read now in every sense, of 
these early efforts. They resulted in my very first earnings - fifteen 
rupees from the Madras Mail- which I sent home to signalise the 
occasion. My mother bought with the money a sort of tall white-metal 
ashtray, which she kept by her to the end, though she had long given 
up her very occasional cigarette. Later, to my father’s great delight, I 
had a short sketch published in the New Statesman . It was in the vein 
of pastiche-Chekhov, very popular at that time, what with Katherine 
Mansfield and the Master himself appearing in the World’s Classics 
series. The theme - an elderly elementary schoolmaster who had lost 
heart, felt himself a failure, etc. etc. My father wrote that, opening his 
New Statesman and finding my piece there, had kept him going. 

I shared my servant, Kuruvella, with Lester Hooper. We usually 
took our evening meal together. He was a Harrovian; tall and thin and 
pale, with silky flaxen hair and, when he neglected to shave, a similarly 
silken beard; a meek and saintly person, with a passionate dedication to 
evangelical Christianity. His father was a pencil manufacturer, very 
comfortably off, and I imagine what is called self-made. He visited us in 
Alwaye, well loaded with all varieties of his commodity; large and small, 
hard and soft, delible and indelible, some of which I acquired. His 



n6 The Green Stick 

mother, whom I also met in England, was one of those frail powdery 
ladies who sit well wrapped up in chauffeur-driven limousines; so 
completely belonging there that one is quite surprised to see them 
indoors without a fur coat, or walking about in the open air. Lester and 
I did not have a great deal to talk about; he disapproved of my political 
views, and I teased him about his complaisant attitude to what is now 
called the Establishment. I also, I regret to say, mocked at his pieties, 
and tried to shock him whenever I could. I can only now remember 
one single remark he made to me; d propos Jesus chasing the money- 
changers out of the Temple (a favourite episode, for obvious reasons, 
in my father’s circle), Lester said with great earnestness and, for him, 
emphasis, that he was quite sure that the rope Jesus took up never 
touched anyone. He could not bear the idea of the Son of God, like any 
prefect, falling back on personal chastisement to enforce obedience. 
After I left Alwaye, Lester stayed on, devoting himself, along with 
some of the students, to missionary and welfare work among the un- 
touchables. Some years later, I heard he had died, and when I revisited 
Alwaye I sought out and stood contritely by his grave in the little 
Christian cemetery near the mission bungalow where Holland had lived, 
envious in a way of his quiet resting-place. 

Occasional hospitality from the Hollands made an agreeable change. 
It was a well-run household; Mrs Holland belonged to an affluent 
Bristol family with strong Tory affiliations, and injected into her hus- 
band’s austere missionary ways and vaguely progressive attitudes some 
of the certainties and amenities which still prevailed in English middle- 
class life in those days - certainties and amenities which, for some reason, 
were always symbolised for me by a little methylated spirits burner set 
under a silver tea-pot to keep it hot. I think I must have seen this 
particular device in use at a Quaker table, or perhaps at one of our tame 
clergymen’s, but ever afterwards thought of it as being the imprimatur 
of bourgeois status. Mrs Holland used such a burner and silver tea-pot. 
Holland himself belonged to the old evangelical tradition. His face had a 
sort of granitic amiability; virtue was carved into it with - given the 
toughness of the material - surprising delicacy and subtlety, and, of 
course, guaranteed durability. When he prayed, he closed his eyes tightly 
and spoke to God as a head-boy might to his housemaster; in strong, 
steady and utterly straightforward accents. This second marriage fairly 
late in life took him into another milieu, socially, politically, and even 
spiritually (Mrs Holland was inclined to be high-church); but his 
splendid physical and moral constitution enabled him to withstand the 



Twilight of Empire 1 1 7 

shock, though leaving him beneath the surface, as I thought, a little 
shaken. After he retired from India he was given a City Church, once, 
as he proudly told me, attended by William Wilberforce. I visited him 
there, and was happy to find him little changed. 

I sometimes went from the College to Alwaye by the river, in a little 
boat that I had acquired; a hollowed-out tree-trunk made into a rather 
primitive canoe, which I paddled along. It quite often overturned, 
which I didn’t mind much. Once I took the Bishop of Colombo, an 
elegant man named Carpenter-Gamier, in it when we were both dining 
with the Hollands. He had got himself up in a splendid purple cassock, 
and I was sorely tempted to overturn the boat deliberately just to see 
whether the colour would run. However, I resisted the temptation, and 
we arrived safe and dry. Both Holland and the Bishop would have 
considered themselves missionaries; missionary enterprise, in those last 
years of the Raj, being still in full swing, with the object of actually 
converting the heathen and inducing them to be baptised. Nowadays, 
of course, this is no longer so; almost any missionary will preface any 
remarks he may make about his work with a statement to the effect 
that he by no means considers Christianity better than other faiths, and 
that he has learnt much from the heathen through his association with 
them. 

In my time, apart from Holland - who was veering towards the new 
attitude - there were still plenty of the old-style missionaries around. 
One such I stayed with in Tinevelly, in South India. Besides being an 
evangelist, he was a doctor, and took me with him to a nearby village 
stricken with cholera. At first it looked as though the village was quite 
deserted; no one seemed to be stirring, all the huts were quiet, until my 
companion stationed himself by the well, and rang a bell he had with 
him. At its sound a few villagers dragged themselves out and gathered 
round him. He told them in Tamil that God had visited this misfortune 
upon them because of their sins; at the same time, it was also due to 
contaminated water, and he put some permanganate in the well to 
correct this. Then he went round injecting the sick with saline solution. 
His fearlessness and the simplicity of his faith were impressive, even 
though I considered it reprehensible to use the epidemic to, as it were, 
advertise the Christian God’s power to punish. He told me how, at his 
dispensary, when he asked an out-patient whether his bowels had moved, 
the man replied, with the savage irony of the very poor, that as he had 
not eaten, it was scarcely to be expected that he would have anything to 
excrete. A similar example of this bitter wisdom in those who live on 



ii8 The Green Stick 



the very edge of total destitution was provided by an official in the 
Punjab who told me that once he had asked a small farmer there whether 
he hated the Government or the money-lender more. After some thought 
the farmer replied that he hated the Government more, because, 
whereas it was to the money-lender’s interest to keep him just alive so 
that he could go on paying off his debt, the Government didn’t care 
whether he lived or died. 

In an Indian State like Travancore the British Raj seemed very far 
away. The only Sahibs living in Alwaye were Holland, Lester Hooper 
and myself; Mrs Holland was the solitary Memsahib. There were, it is 
true, also two Spanish Roman Catholic priests, bearded, and invariably 
in their cassocks, but somehow they did not qualify. Anyway, we never 
had anything to do with them. At Cochin, a few miles away, there was a 
small cluster of Sahibs - a bank manager, some business men, or box- 
wallahs as they were then called, with equivalent Memsahibs, a Club 
and other amenities. I only once spent an evening with them, at the 
Club. Like every other such establishment, existing wherever two or 
more exiled English were gathered together east of Suez, there was a 
dimly lit dining-room, a bar and lounge, old tattered copies of the 
Illustrated London News and the Tatler lying about, lots of servants in 
white and red sashes and turbans, and a flavour of stale booze and 
vestiges of old hangovers in the air. Outside, an elaborately watered 
garden and tennis courts. Brooding over it all, the sense of infinite 
tedium which characterised all these haunts of the expatriate English in 
India; more especially the ones frequented by the Memsahibs, who 
grew pale and randy and ill-at-ease with nothing to do under the 
tropical sun. My evening at the Cochin Club, I gloomily recall, ended 
with some rather macabre drunken festivities, which involved dragging 
a cart through the streets and pretending it was a tumbril. 

I once or twice had occasion to go to Trivandrum, the capital of 
Travancore, where the Maharajah had his Palace and the State Govern- 
ment its seat. As the ruling family were Nairs, a matriarchal community, 
inheritance was through the female line and, the Maharajah being a 
minor, effective power was exercised through the Junior Maharanee; 
actually, a somewhat disreputable character. The Diwan, or Prime 
Minister, needed to be on good terms with her; a later incumbent 
whom I knew, Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer, achieved this in the same sort 
of way that Disraeli ingratiated himself with Queen Victoria - by in- 
ordinate flattery and amorous protestations. When he was in Simla 
seeing the Viceroy, the stability of his situation was judged by the 



Twilight of Empire 1 19 

regularity with which the mangoes the Junior Maharanee sent him 
arrived. As long as they were duly dispatched it was assumed that all 
was well. He managed to keep in favour, with mangoes regularly 
arriving when he was away, right up to the transfer of power in 1949 
which, considering he was well into his seventies by then, was no mean 
feat. He died full of years and honours in Ootacumund some years later. 
Incidentally, the Nairs should provide a perfect milieu for Women’s 
Lib zealots. My memory is that the males always seemed unusually 
carefree and happy. 

The local representative of the Raj was the British Resident; a man 
named Cotton, who lived in an old Dutch house with splendid wide 
verandas on an island in Cochin harbour. It was a delectable spot, and 
Cotton made the most of it. He maintained a stylish household, with a 
smart launch to take him to and from the mainland, and a brass band 
to play ‘Colonel Bogey* and ‘Lillibullero* on gala occasions. When he 
travelled to Trivandrum, all the ferries along the way were held to 
wait for him so that he should not have to suffer the smallest delay. On 
special occasions like the King-Emperor*s birthday, he gave a garden- 
party to which even Anglo-Indians, if they were not too dark, and 
missionaries, if they were not too out-of-the-way, were invited. He 
was a man, I should have said, of considerable capacity, but indolent 
by nature, who preferred the remoteness from his bosses in the Political 
Department of the Government of India, the leisured life and the 
ceremonial status his post as British Resident in Cochin and Travancore 
provided, to more ambitious appointments which would probably have 
been within his reach. Two rather ravaged ladies who wore a lot of 
make-up and seemed always to be fatigued, to the point that they rarely 
managed to finish a sentence, and even long words tended to peter 
out before they got to the last syllable, were usually staying in the 
house. It was generally assumed that the younger of the two was his 
mistress. 

It was a Somerset Maugham set-up, as I recognised subsequently; 
at the time I had never read any Maugham, whose works, like P. G. 
Wodehouse’s, were considered improper in a socialist household like 
ours. Maugham, of course, would have made Cotton a more emphatic 
figure, who saved up his sea-borne copies of The Times to read at 
breakfast, and punctiliously dressed for dinner in all circumstances. 
The mistress would have been younger and slimmer, and have lost her 
heart to the Residency chauffeur, a Sikh with a black curly beard in a 
hair-net. The other lady would have been older, and have saved the 



120 The Green Stick 

situation by her worldly sagacity, and a discreet gift to the Sikh on the 
understanding that he sought other employment. The denouement 
would have been a letter to Cotton from the Viceroy's secretary in- 
forming him that he had been awarded a KBE in the Birthday Honours. 
When I visited Maugham at Cap Ferrat, as I sometimes did towards 
the end of his life, I used to think of Cotton and his household, reflecting 
that it was the fate of this aged pederast with his parchment face and 
somehow Chinese features to catch, in the portrayal of characters like 
Cotton, the last afterglow of Victorian romanticism. Hence the popu- 
larity of his novels and stories. He and Galsworthy, in their writings, 
and later on the television screen, notably celebrated a lost bourgeoisie 
in the century of the common man, to the delectation of one and all; 
especially in the USSR and its satellite countries, where the bourgeoisie, 
abolished in a revolution and replaced by party cadres, was particularly 
mourned over. 

I got to know Cotton quite well. He told me that his motive in the 
first place for seeing me was to consider whether I might not be a 
suitable person to be tutor to the young Travancore Maharajah, but 
that after only ten minutes* conversation he realised that I would never 
do for the post. It gave me a momentary regret that I had not been more 
guarded in talking with him. All my life I have teetered between wanting 
to be successful and despising what constitutes success. It is a rather 
ridiculous posture; like making ardent advances to a woman, and then, 
when at last she surrenders, feeling disinclined to take advantage of her 
accessibility. Perhaps such a temperament, applied to public affairs, is 
particularly suitable for the communications business. A Thersites role. 
Even now, I regret to say, something of this attitude remains; like the 
dregs of an old passion. I still find myself avidly reading gossip para- 
graphs about people I have never even heard of, and following public 
controversies whose outcome is a matter of indifference to me. It is 
Dr Johnson's splendid sentences which roll one most kindly in the dust 
of such fatuities; for instance, his account in Rasselas of the old man 
who endeavours ‘to abstract my thoughts from hopes and cares which, 
though reason knows them to be vain, still try to keep their old possession 
of the heart'. 

Of course the Maharajah’s court in Trivandrum was a pretty tin-pot 
and unimpressive affair; but then so was the Governor of Madras when 
I watched him come clattering into church at Ootacamund, the hill 
station where I spent the summer vacation, followed by his ladies and 
ADCs, to occupy the front pew reserved for him, Indian worshippers 



Twilight of Empire 1 2 1 

being restricted to the back pews. His grey frock-coat and topper some- 
how failed to suggest majesty, reminding me more of a Worshipful 
Mayor than an Excellency. The Indian Princes at least had better props 
and costumes; Highnesses all, and sometimes Serene ones, with their 
jewels and elephants and dancing girls and dusky soft self-indulgent 
faces, they belonged to the Indian scene, whereas the Governor seemed 
to have strayed out of Croydon Town Hall. Both the Princes and the 
Governor, had they but known it, were playing out their last act; the 
one to be replaced by an Indian equivalent, though without the grey 
topper; the others to linger on in their courts, the velvet upholstery 
growing ever dingier and dustier, the dinner table display tattier, the 
servants scruffier, the evening hours longer and the daytime ones 
emptier. Cut off from their States, from India, finally from life itself; 
vestigial figures, reaching back to Great Moguls, then to parchment 
treaties signed, witnessed and delivered; suppliants at Durbars before 
a bearded King-Emperor, a stately Queen-Empress, coming from afar; 
resplendent in a Chamber of Princes, at Viceregal levees, with appro- 
priate gun salutes to match their eminence. Finally discarded in con- 
sequence of dishevelled MPs striding or lurching through parliamentary 
lobbies, some in winged collars, with waistcoats and hanging watch- 
chains, their footsteps resounding on Westminster stone under grey 
Westminster skies by the grey Thames. Kingdoms all lost to shouts of 
‘Divisionl Division!’; to them an alien and incomprehensible cry; yet 
full of doom. At last deprived of their only remaining prop -their 
Privy Purses. So finally bereft of all authority; little lost pools 
of sovereignty left behind on a barren shore by a receding tide of 
history. 

When, years later, we were filming in Alwaye, by a curious chance 
we stayed in Cotton’s Residency, now become a Kerala Government 
Rest House. The fine structure of the house remained intact, and a few 
pieces of furniture and old faded photographs survived from its past 
glory. It was the same launch which ferried us across, but, of course, 
grown shabby with the years, and lacking the smart sailors and ensign. 
The grounds too were sorely neglected; though on Sundays the few 
Sahibs still remaining in Cochin came over to play golf, bringing with 
them their Memsahibs and their own supplies of chilled beer. Hearing 
their shouted badinage, it was almost as though a ghostly garden-party 
was being re-enacted; I strained my ears to catch ‘Colonel Bogey* and 
‘Lillibullero’; and half expected Cotton’s portly but elegant form (it 
was thought he might perhaps wear stays) to loom into view, exuding 



122 The Green Stick 

the absent-minded geniality, the distant joviality, the unrecognising 
recognition of the ceremonially great. 

In Ootacamund I stayed in a house named ‘Farley* which belonged to 
Miss Hopwood, a zealous evangelical lady of some wealth who main- 
tained the house to accommodate missionaries on furlough. It was, for 
her, a labour of love, not for profit; she charged very little, and looked 
after us all most kindly and generously. I grew to love her, and was very 
happy under her roof. To me she was consistently kind, if not over- 
indulgent, and even sent me baskets of fruit and fresh vegetables to 
Alwaye, thinking that my diet was inadequate there - which I daresay 
it was. We knew little of her own family circumstances, but she spoke 
sometimes of travelling about Europe with her mother, and attending 
musical festivals. Music was her only ‘worldly* interest; otherwise, she 
considered all forms of entertainment as belonging to the Devil’s 
domain. Hymn-singing was a permissible indulgence of her taste for 
music, and whenever possible she threw herself into it with tremendous 
zest, often, in her own house, providing the accompaniment as well on 
a small harmonium she had. She must have been rather pretty when she 
was young, and even in late middle age, when I knew her, she had still a 
grace and charm and gaiety about her, despite her severe, if not 
Calvinist, religious outlook. She insisted that German theologians were 
responsible for the erosion of Biblical faith, and set them as a heavy 
debit against her love for Mozart and Beethoven and even Wagner. Her 
household ran smoothly under her direction; she treated the servants 
well, and they stayed with her. I can see her now, with her energetic 
step, going about the garden and in and out of the house; the chains and 
bracelets she was given to wearing jingling and tinkling with her move- 
ments. Always busy, always breathless, always smiling. I regret to say 
that I sometimes said things intended to shock her, but she invariably 
forgave me. 

After breakfast each morning, the ‘Farley* residents would get down 
from their chairs and kneel at them for prayers; offered by any minister 
or clergyman who happened to be present, or, failing one, by Miss 
Hopwood herself. Kneeling there amidst the relics of a hearty meal was 
a bizarre experience; with the fat barely congealed on the plate off which 
one had just scoffed bacon and egg, and one’s teeth still gritted with 
fragments of toast and shreds of marmalade. The prayers themselves, 
in the evangelical style, were likewise mundane; Father, we ask thee to 
help so and so in his studies for an external BA degree. Or someone else 
to get the wherewithal to build a greatly needed extension to his Mission 



Twilight of Empire 123 

Hall. Once I heard an elderly Methodist minister, attired in an old- 
fashioned down-turned collar and white tie, pray: Lord, we offer unto 
thee Miss Ogilvie’s leg. Miss Ogilvie, who was present, had broken her 
leg; in any case rather ample of size, it seemed enormous in a plaster 
cast, and not, I reflected, a particularly appetising offering. It was easy 
to deride these simple requests, and yet there was something very 
touching about their particularity, which I dare say made them as 
acceptable in heaven as intoned pleas for peace in our time, or for the 
well-being of those set in authority over us. They were a sort of prosaic 
plainsong; heavenly actualities. If God, as we are told, has indeed 
counted the hairs of each head, and cannot see a sparrow fall to the 
ground without distress, then the particular concerns of His servants 
must be of concern to Him, whatever they may be. 

Under Miss Hopwood’s roof I met a great variety of missionaries. 
There were Anglican bishops who, though they might call themselves 
Bernard Madras or Reginald Cawnpore, were still more redolent of a 
cathedral close than a bathing ghat; wild American evangelists ready at 
the drop of a hat to show lantern slides of their work among head- 
hunters on the Burmese frontier; tough maiden ladies who had travelled 
prodigious distances in bullock carts, and lived in remote places among 
ferocious tribesmen; stubborn fundamentalists who had acquired im- 
mense erudition through translating the Bible into obscure vernaculars. 
One of these last told me that, in the case of a vernacular which had 
never hitherto been written, the nearest equivalent he could get to 
everlasting crown was a hat that will never wear out. I found them on 
the whole interesting and sympathetic company; much more so than 
other foreign residents in India who were considered, and considered 
themselves, intellectually and socially superior. Somehow I have always 
had an inner and unaccountable conviction that any religious expression 
of truth, however bizarre or uncouth, is more sufficing than any secular 
one, howeve/ elegant and intellectually brilliant. Animistic savages 
prostrating themselves before a painted stone have always seemed to me 
to be nearer the truth than any Einstein or Bertrand Russell. As it 
might be pigs in a crowded sty, jostling and shoving to bury their 
snouts in the trough; until one of them momentarily lifts his snout 
upwards in the air, in so doing expressing the hope of all enlightenment 
to come; breaking off from his guzzling to point with his lifted snout to 
where the angels and archangels gather round God’s throne. 

The Nilgiri Hills, where Ootacamund is situated, looked very beauti- 
ful from the window of my room. Miss Hopwood, who loved them and, 



124 The Green Stick 

as I heard long afterwards, died within sight of them, gave them names 
from The Pilgrim's Progress and the Bible. As, the Delectable Mountains 
and Beulah. I went off with a pony and a tent to explore them; sometimes 
sleeping in my tent, and sometimes staying with a tea-planter glad to 
receive any visitor in his loneliness. They were generally rather hard- 
bitten men, with that aloofness which comes from being alone a great 
deal without any recourse like reading or listening to music by way of 
mitigation. A truly lonely loneliness. The coolies who worked for them, 
nearby in their godowns, were scarcely fellow-mortals, though they 
were fond of them usually, and treated them kindly; but not quite as 
considerately as they treated their dogs or horses, to whom they became 
deeply attached. If they had a native girl in to share their bed, as most 
of them did from time to time, it was still in the great majority of cases a 
purely physical, impersonal relationship. A release of sperm and sexual 
tensions. There would be the inevitable Club some miles away, which 
they would go to perhaps once a week, to play bridge or snooker, or look 
at the papers, or enjoy the company of the one or two Memsahibs who 
came in, with or without their husbands, from neighbouring estates. 
An evening with them at home was largely silent, with a lot of Scotch 
diluted with water in large tumblers consumed; faces getting redder, 
speech slower in the process. In one planter’s house, when I was packing 
up to go, my host remarked how surprised he had been to notice how 
large a proportion of my baggage was books. The remark delighted me, 
though I affected to receive it deprecatingly. Actually, I have always been 
a great carrier of books; more, however, for show, as a kind of totem, 
than to read. There are books like Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy and 
Montaigne’s Essays which I have carried about the world for years on 
end without ever reading a single word to this day. Johnson said he 
would sooner praise the novels of Congreve than read them (the re- 
viewer’s charter); similarly, there are a lot of books I'd sooner carry 
than read. 

On my wanderings in the Nilgiris I often caught a glimpse of the 
plains below; yellow and sizzling, and so far, far away. It gave one a 
tremendous feeling of being cut off, utterly remote, from India with its 
noises and flies and smells and teeming population. In this aloofness 
and remoteness, up there among the fir trees, dark green against a 
piercingly blue sky, breathing the fresh mountain air, drinking the cool 
mountain water, bathed in the clear bright mountain sunshine, I had an 
overwhelming sense of being engaged in a quest. What for? I didn’t 
know; I still don’t know. Only that one has to stumble on, as I did with 



Twilight of Empire 125 

my pony, aware that each comer reveals another, as each horizon opens 
up another. So it was borne in upon me that there never would be an 
arrival; there never would be a home-coming. Only, at best, a transit 
camp, and something seen through a glass darkly - the lineaments of a 
face dimly picked out, the sound of a voice whose words with much 
straining could just be caught, a presence towards which one could 
reach. No more than that. On my way back to Ootacamund I saw Miss 
Hop wood and some of the 4 Farley’ residents coming to meet me. She 
had brought one of her incomparable picnics, to which we sat down 
cheerfully together, looking across at the Delectable Mountains, clear 
in the bright sunlight. Before beginning to eat and drink we sang one of 
her favourite hymns. 

Mulling over this solitary journey afterwards, I had a notion that 
somehow, besides questing, I was being pursued. Footsteps padding 
behind me; a following shadow, a Hound of Heaven, so near that I could 
feel the warm breath on my neck. I knew I was making for somewhere, 
some place of light; seeking some ultimate fulfilment in which another 
reborn me would extricate itself from the existing husk of a fleshly 
egotistic me, like a butterfly from a chrysalis. I was also in flight. Chasing 
and being chased; the pursuing and the pursuit, the quest and the flight, 
merging at last into one single immanence or luminosity. Some scribbled 
pencil notes that have survived finish up with the barely decipherable 
question: Is this God? No answer is offered. 

My last months at Alwaye were marred by illness. I developed Delhi 
boils; little Etnas in my flesh, which went on persistently erupting. Also, 
I was afflicted with two kinds of worms. Unfortunately, what destroyed 
the one nourished the other, and vice versa. At one point in these mis- 
fortunes a local physician was brought in; a wild-looking man with 
heavily oiled hair and sandalwood pasted on his forehead. Rather 
ominously he brought with him a jam-jar of leeches which, however, 
to my considerable relief, he did not propose using. I cannot say that 
his ministrations were effective, but I did somehow manage to get well 
enough to resume taking my classes. Conditions at the College were, 
it must be admitted, rather severe for a European, and if I had stayed 
on, as Lester Hooper did, I should probably, like him, have died there. 
It might have been the better course, but I was impatient for the end of 
the three years I had contracted to stay; not for any reason except that, 
once again, I wanted to make off. In all my life I have never stayed in 
any job much more than three years - five at the most. It has been a 
kind of Bedouin existence, feeding off one oasis after another. The 



126 The Green Stick 

things one is paid a salary for doing are never, in my experience, serious ; 
never seem in the long run of any particular use to anyone. Thus I have 
come to think of financial rewards as purely arbitrary; like army pay 
which no one can foresee or understand. It is this arbitrariness, or - in 
the religious sense - mystery, of earnings which leads to the generally 
prevailing dissatisfaction with them; in the same sort of way that every- 
one is dissatisfied with what he pulls out of a lucky dip, irrespective of 
whether he has been fortunate or unfortunate. 

My final departure was spoilt by an article of mine that appeared just 
before I left severely criticising Indian university education in general 
and, by implication, Alwaye in particular. The Principal, A. M. Varkey, 
an extremely nice man, was deeply upset, and told me that, whereas he 
had been looking forward to giving me a great send-off, now he had no 
heart for it. I was duly abashed. The curious thing is that I had no 
thought of the consequences of the article’s appearance as I threw myself 
into writing it, struggling to give expression with the greatest possible 
emphasis to the cultural and spiritual emptiness, the intellectual and 
aesthetic shoddiness, of the kind of education Indian college students 
were getting. The same sort of thing has happened to me on numerous 
other occasions; I can only record, but cannot fully explain, still less 
justify, a propensity I recognise in myself to kick in the teeth institutions 
or enterprises I have served, as well as the individuals concerned in 
running them, at the moment of departure. This might seem to be, 
and has often been taken as being, deliberate treachery. If so, not con- 
sciously; rather, perhaps, a fatality arising out of an inability to follow 
Blake’s dictum, and be a cut worm that loves the plough. 

The fact that my departure from Alwaye was rather desultory and 
low-keyed did not prevent me from feeling greatly exhilarated when I 
found myself on my way home. The first part of the journey was by 
small boat on the backwaters, and I had with me Venketramen, a 
colleague at the Union Christian College who had become a close friend, 
and Mathail, a Christian sadhu or holy man, wearing the saffron robe 
and wandering without money or possessions from place to place, to 
whom I was also devoted. Their original purpose had been only to see 
me off at Alwaye, but then they very sweetly decided they would come 
with me as far as Alleppey. They needed no luggage, and felt under no 
necessity to inform anyone of their change of plan. I half hoped I 
might be able to persuade them to come on to Colombo, and even 
beyond, as I hated the idea of parting from them. I still had with me 
some examination papers to mark, which I proceeded to do in a desultory 



Twilight of Empire 1 27 

way, throwing them away in the backwater as soon as I had finished 
marking them and recording the marks awarded. It seemed a satisfyingly 
symbolic gesture. In my ebullient mood, the candidates fared well; I 
believe I scarcely failed a single one. 

Venketramen was a Madras Brahmin; I greatly admired the strict 
austerity of his way of life. He had never tasted meat or alcohol or 
tobacco; I never saw him in a suit, but only in a spotlessly white mundu 
and shirt. Though I often visited his house, I only once or twice caught 
a distant glimpse of his wife. As a strict Brahmin, he wore the holy 
thread, but his hair was cropped, not kept in a bun. His features were 
sharp, his eyes bright, and he spoke with great precision and lucidity. 
His subject was mathematics, but he was widely read and introduced 
me to the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita . I was utterly fascinated 
to get to know this completely different kind of man from any I had 
encountered hitherto; a product of auite a different kind of civilisation. 
Christianity interested him little, and the evangelistic activities at the 
College, such as they were, touched him not at all. I will not say that he 
looked down on the Syrian Christians, who were his students and 
colleagues, but he held aloof from them with, as it seemed to me, a 
touch of aristocratic disdain. In the West the association between 
distinction of any kind and, if not affluence, then material ease and 
comfort, is so close that it is difficult to imagine it in any other terms. 
Yet I doubt whether Venketramen spent more than a minute proportion 
of his in any case modest salary on himself. He had no chairs or table, 
only a mat; no wardrobe, no motor-car, only a very few books. I remem- 
ber once saying to him, d propos this austerity, that Indians had no 
interest in preserving trophies of the past; like manuscripts, inscriptions, 
monuments. That they were as spartan about the past as about their 
own present; reducing it to the same sort of simplicities. How long can 
the manuscripts or monuments be preserved? he asked. A thousand 
years? A hundred-thousand years? A thousand-thousand years? In the 
end, they are dust. So what’s the point? He spread out his elegant hands 
in a way he had. 

I am temperamentally incapable of understanding anything abstractly 
stated. When, for instance, I read (G. E. Moore): ‘ When toe infer that a 
thing did happen in the past toe are in fact doing that simply on an inductive 
ground from the fact that we remember it . . or (Wittgenstein): T have 
two different ideas , one of ceasing to exist after death , the other of being a 
disembodied spirit . What's it like to have two different ideas f What is the 



128 The Green Stick 

criterion for one man having one idea , another man having another idea 
my mind shuts up; as it did when my father, as he was prone to, got 
on to the subject of the Categorical Imperative. Thus, I have never been 
able to get through any work on Hindu philosophy; I sat with the 
Maharishi noting how supple were his legs folded beneath him, how 
well tended his curly beard, how freshly and fragrantly groomed he was, 
but as for the discourse he treated me to - why, it might have been 
Professor Namier reading aloud to me that front he had written in the 
Times Literary Supplement . From my association with Venketramen, 
however, the times I spent with him, observing him washing and 
gargling his mouth, as he did punctiliously, delicately picking his rice 
from a plantain leaf with his quick fingers, dipping it, maybe, in curds, 
taking his evening bath in the river, composing himself so precisely to 
sleep on a narrow ledge outside his house - from all this I got a notion 
of Hinduism. Something, in its top flights, very beautiful; all embracing, 
subtle, gentle, static - above all, static. Making few demands, but few 
concessions too; circular, not angular; going on and on, without any 
drama to break the even flow. No darkening of the sun or rending of a 
curtain; no finishing to begin and dying to be born. No voice crying 
in the wilderness; rather the converse - the wilderness crying in a voice 
Superficially, at any rate, no one could have been more different 
from Venketramen than Mathail was. He seemed to be composed of 
bones only, without any flesh covering them; just skin. It was rare to 
see him eat at all, and when he did he only pecked like a bird. He would 
turn up suddenly, stay a little while, and then disappear; never going 
anywhere in particular, or coming from anywhere in particular. I was 
so fond of him that I always seemed to be on the watch for him. If, 
when he came, you put an arm round him, it was like clutching a 
bundle of sticks. When I first saw an El Greco portrait, I realised how 
like one he was; the head shaved, the face gaunt, but with a great 
beauty in it. His face somehow shining, in the El Greco style, with that 
indomitable, inexorable Christian love; absurd, inane, if not insane, in 
its total refusal to exclude anyone or anything from the range of its 
radiance. All-inclusive to the point of idiocy; sweeping like a great 
searchlight across the universe, from the tiniest midge buzzing round a 
cow-pat to the burnished splendour of God’s very throne. A sort of 
beatific half-wittedness in it; a fantastic strength derived from an 
equally fantastic weakness, an invulnerability born of being so very 
vulnerable. A face pared down to nothing, but that nothing, everything; 



T wilight of Empire 129 

the lowliest of faces, conveying the greatest heights ever aspired to. 
Truly a countenance divine; eternal in time, and timely in eternity. 

I felt very content in the company of these two; the happiness of our 
journey together glows still across the years that have passed. The 
sparkling water, the bright sunshine, the warm breeze; the sense of 
being detached from duties, responsibilities, affections even; yesterday 
gone, and tomorrow not yet come, and our boat propelled smoothly 
along; to give an extra point to my contentment, each examination paper 
discarded representing a defiant and final rejection of Little Dowden. 
We watched delightedly as the papers bobbed away on the surface of 
the water. Happiness is the most difficult of all things to convey. 
Tolstoy, I should say, comes nearest; for instance, in his description in 
War and Peace of Natasha’s visit to the huntsman’s house; how she and 
the others listened to stories, then danced, then rode back in their sledge 
through the frosty starlit night. With my two oddly assorted companions, 
gliding into the golden light of an Indian evening on my way back to 
Europe and home, I likewise was happy. 

In Alleppey the three of us slept on the floor of a room in some sort 
of Christian institution with which Mathail was associated. After 
bathing, Venketramen sat cross-legged, still and silent, looking out at the 
night. Mathail’s devotions were more fidgety; bowing down his head, 
grimacing and muttering, cracking his finger joints. The one passive, 
letting the Cloud of Unknowing settle about his head; the other rest- 
lessly seeking to pierce it. In either case, the Cloud remains unpierced, 
for ‘there was never yet creature in this life, nor never yet shall be, so 
high ravished in contemplation and love of the Godhead, that there is 
not evermore a high and wonderful Cloud of Unknowing betwixt him 
and his God’. 

As for me - 1 made no meditations or devotions at all, but was full 
of thoughts of becoming a famous author, holding audiences spell- 
bound, seducing women. I felt like a Stendhal hero, avid for the world 
and what it had to offer; a true child of our time, worldly and sensual. 
Perhaps sensing this, Venketramen, very uncharacteristically in view 
of his habitual reserve, spoke to me about women and the danger they 
represented to someone like myself; they were ravening, he said, 
destructive, a coarsening and ultimately fatal addiction. His own 
temperament, and even physique, were so remote from anything of the 
kind, that his words scarcely registered; as when, his features reflecting 
the deep disgust he felt, he spoke of meat-eating. Mathail gave no 
indication of having heard what was said, but looking across at him I 

C.W.T. — 1 



130 The Green Stick 

noticed a sort of half smile playing over his face. The next day I said 
good-bye to them affectionately, and left for Colombo. There I took a 
ship to Naples, where, as I have already mentioned, my father was 
waiting for me on the quay, his bowler firmly on his head. I was not to 
see India again for a decade, returning in very different circumstances; 
to live as a Sahib in Calcutta and Simla, never once recapturing the 
delight of those first magical years. 



4 The Pursuit of 
Righteousness 



The reigning Error of his Life was, that he mistook the Love for the 
Practice of Virtue, and was indeed not so much a Good Man as the 
Friend of Goodness. 

^ Johnson’s Life of Savage 

back in England, I went to stay in Birmingham with Alec Vidler, 
who was by this time a curate there in a parish in Small Heath. He and 
the other clergy, all celibates, lived in a clergy house, where I also 
stayed. Unmarried clerics, whatever their denomination, living to- 
gether, create their own characteristic domestic interior. Austere, and, 
at the same time, careless; with tobacco smoke hanging about the cur- 
tains and upholstery, as well as in the lavatory, which gives an impression 
of being in constant use; like the crockery in a busy station buffet. No 
carpets, so footsteps echo up the wooden stairs and along the wooden 
corridors; the rustle of cassocks, and the fumes of plain cooking seeping 
through the service hatch; tea set ready for all and sundry in a large 
metal pot standing amidst an array of cups and saucers. A lot of joking, 
while standing in front of the fire, hands under black leather belt and 
black skirts billowing; in the early morning, celebrants coming and 
going, their faces severe and withdrawn, sometimes holding their gear; 
in the afternoons, a heaviness, and in the evenings an ebullience, at 
night vaguely heard groans and mutterings and twistings and turnings 
of uneasy sleepers. 

The adjoining church was, of course, very high, with the little red 
light of the reserved Sacrament always aglow, the pungency of incense 
always in the air, Holy Water in good supply, and confessionals available 
like telephone kiosks as and when required. All this led to an acri- 
monious controversy with the then Bishop of Birmingham, Dr Barnes, 
who regarded the Eucharist as a distasteful form of magic. A sometime 
Daily News columnist, he was one of Ramsay MacDonald’s clerical 



132 The Green Stick 

appointments, another being Dr Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury, 
who over the years preached Stalin and him sanctified from the pulpit 
of the Anglican Church’s senior cathedral. Thus MacDonald, least 
revolutionary of Socialists, all unconsciously delivered a body blow at 
institutional Christianity far more destructive in its consequences than 
all the efforts of overtly anti-Christian crusades. The best demolition 
work is done by such unlikely agents; bourgeois society being a Pro- 
metheus fated to gorge its own entrails. Was it not two bourgeois Jews - 
a typical Viennese general practitioner, and a British Museum Reading 
Room enragi - Freud and Marx - who undermined the whole basis of 
Western European civilisation as no avowedly insurrectionary move- 
ment ever has or could, by promoting the notion of determinism, in the 
one case in morals, in the other in history, thereby relieving individual 
men and women of all responsibility for their personal and collective 
behaviour? 

When I was working on the Manchester Guardian , I met Dr Barnes, a 
friend of C. P. Scott. He turned out to be a rather holy-looking man. 
Clergymen, in my experience, tend to get holier and holier-looking as 
they move farther and farther away from their faith; rather in the same 
way that a certain type of womaniser gets more ethereal looking the more 
women he seduces. It must be some kind of inner adjustment mechanics, 
like a thermostat. There never was a more deaconal dean than Dr 
Hewlett Johnson when, in his gaiters and with a large cross adorning his 
waistcoat, he sat beaming beatifically among his church’s foremost 
enemies. Dr Barnes’s rig was also elegantly clerical, and he had a gentle, 
purring, exaggeratedly meek manner of addressing one. At the time I 
met him he was much exercised about a new telescope which had just 
been developed. Telescopes, he seemed to imply, were getting so power- 
ful that before long they’d be looking into heaven itself. Then all doubts 
would be set at rest, and science and faith come together in one blessed 
consummation. When Scott died, Barnes conducted his funeral service 
in Manchester Cathedral. In the course of his address on that occasion 
he remarked that some might consider it strange that he, an Anglican 
bishop, should be presiding over the obsequies of a distinguished 
Unitarian in an Anglican cathedral; but to him it seemed the most 
natural thing in the world, since Scott, like himself, had been a puzzled 
theist. This appeared in The Times report as ‘puzzled atheist*. It con- 
firmed my feeling that misprints, like the foolishness of men, are the 
wisdom of God. 

Alec, though mixed up in the controversy with his Bishop, to the 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 133 

point that he stayed on in Small Heath much longer than he intended or 
wished in order not to give Dr Barnes the opportunity of appointing 
someone in his place with different theological views, was still, I felt, 
essentially uninvolved. He has an enviable capacity for being able thus 
to withdraw into some deep inward serenity of his own, and in that 
sanctuary, totally private and impregnable; there able to meet his God 
and work out the relationship between them. Without understanding 
precisely how this happens, or the terms arrived at, a third person can 
still draw strength from the resultant serenity. I regard Alec as one of the 
great Christians of our time, even though - perhaps because - 1 should 
have the greatest difficulty in defining just where he stands in the 
different theological disputes which have accompanied the steady 
erosion of Christian faith. To me he has been like a rock where there is 
always shelter, however fierce the hurricane. A lifelong comfort. 

I worked in Birmingham as a supply teacher. This meant moving 
from school to school to replace masters on sick leave or otherwise 
absent. One seldom stayed long enough to get to know the staff or 
children in any particular school; as soon as one began to feel settled, it 
was time to move on. Some of the classes were enormous; I remember 
teaching one of sixty, with ages ranging between nine and fourteen (the 
then school-leaving age), and abilities ranging between average intelli- 
gence and what would now be regarded as sub-normal. It was impossible 
to do anything much except keep order, and that was difficult enough. 
No paddy fields to look out on as at Alwaye; only the asphalt playground. 
It was extraordinarily like a prison; an effect enhanced by the antics of 
the headmaster, a malignant- looking figure with a high colour, thin dark 
hair and a straggly moustache, who had a way of peering in at the class- 
rooms. One would suddenly catch sight of him through the glass of the 
upper part of the door, or know of his presence by a sudden hush which 
descended on the class. His malignancy was in no way abated when he 
took prayers; if anything it was intensified, especially when he read some 
passage from the New Testament like the thirteenth chapter of Corin- 
thians. He seemed almost to be grinding his teeth over ‘faith, hope and 
charity*, and working to a crescendo of fury when he came to: ‘Arid the 
greatest of these is charity.* Even more than at my own elementary 
school, I found ‘Now the day is over* on Friday afternoons quite magical 
in its promise of two days’ release. I think I must have suffered more 
than I now remember, because even to-day, if I happen to hear that 
weird animal noise children make at their morning recess in a walled 
asphalt playground, my heart is liable to lose a beat, particularly if I then 



134 The Green Stick 

hear a bell ringing, followed by silence, which means that soon they will 
be back in the classrooms. At the -as they were then unashamedly 
called - better class schools, my difficulty was more with the teaching 
itself. In a number of subjects, geography and mental arithmetic, for 
instance, the children were well ahead of me, as was liable to emerge all 
too clearly. When I got into difficulties of this kind, my usual recourse 
was to switch to dictation, which gave one time to collect one’s thoughts, 
and which anyway has a kind of drama about it; first a breathless silence, 
and then one’s voice bringing out the words to be written down, like a 
judge delivering a death sentence. 

The post-war spirit of ebullience had now spent itself, and the 
depression was beginning to loom; the economists who were going to 
squeeze Germany till the pips squeaked were in disarray, and John 
Maynard Keynes, straddling King’s College, Cambridge, and the 
Treasury, collecting modernist pictures and directorships with equal 
avidity, pursuing at one and the same time a passion for Duncan Grant 
and for inflationary economics, was coming to the fore. Lloyd George, 
the man of destiny of 1918, had become a ribald figure whose venerable 
white locks and black cloak enclosed a goatish disposition, and whose 
claims to be able to conquer unemployment were as dubious as had been 
the previous ones to make a land fit for heroes to live in. His only asset 
was a political fund acquired by the sale of honours during his premier- 
ship, on a tariff - according to one of the entrepreneurs in the trade, 
Maundy Gregory - ranging between £15,000 for a knighthood and 
£40,000 for a peerage. The other men of the wartime coalition were like- 
wise in abeyance, though Churchill, with his readiness to serve in any 
government at any time on any terms, had, to everyone’s surprise, been 
made Chancellor of the Exchequer by the new Conservative leader, 
Stanley Baldwin. At the Treasury he did all the things he afterwards 
denounced; returning to the Gold Standard, cutting armaments to the 
bone, raiding the Road Fund, etc., etc. His only point of serious differ- 
ence with the new leadership proved to be the extension of self-govern- 
ment in India, the single item in their programme which history was to 
justify. 

Commentators on the political scene tend in retrospect to regard the 
figures who emerge into prominence as totally derisory. Understandably 
so. It is extremely difficult, as I know from personal experience, to spend 
time with one or other of them without reaching the conclusion that 
some accomplished clown like Peter Sellers has substituted for him. 
Yet, in fact, those set in authority over us, whatever the means they may 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 135 

have used to attain the position, whether force or fraudulence or bribery, 
do in some degree represent the governed. This applies to a Stalin or 
Hitler just as much as to a Roosevelt or Ramsay MacDonald, a Ted 
Heath or Nixon. It certainly applied to Baldwin, even though, at the 
time, I affected to regard him as a mere cardboard figure wheeled on by 
the bankers, industrialists and landowners whose interests he repre- 
sented. His stance as a simple fellow smoking a pipe who loved England 
and sought to bring together hostile elements in our society, like capital 
and labour, went down very well. His style of oratory, seemingly artless 
but actually carefully concocted, was just what was wanted after a surfeit 
of heroics during and after the war years. He appeared as a prosaic, 
down-to-earth, nice man, with a prosaic, down-to-earth, nice wife, 
standing solidly for all the dull, serviceable virtues which seemed in the 
pleasure-seeking early twenties to have fallen into disrepute. Obviously, 
this picture of him was not true; it was what nowadays would be called 
his image. He was by no means the stolid, middle-of-the-road Tory and 
countryman he purported to be, but neurotic, treacherous and wily; 
temperamentally, more like his cousin Rudyard Kipling than the John 
Bull role assigned to him in cartoons. Yet the fact that his public image 
should have worked so effectively (and not only among Conservatives; 
my father, when he was an MP in the 1929 Parliament, thought the 
world of him) is itself significant, showing, as it does, the degree to 
which the British ruling class was already on the run, and so in need of 
subterfuges. 

It was a relief when the summer holidays came. On an impulse I 
decided to go over to the Belgian coast again and see Kitty, who was, I 
knew, staying there with her family. I have always found that in the case 
of the rare things in one's life that really matter, that are truly serious, 
there is no deciding after weighing up the pros and cons. An inner 
momentum carries one along; each step seems, at the same time, both 
adventitious and inevitable. It is a kind of sleep-walking; or playing of a 
part so perfectly known that there is no conscious remembering of the 
lines or waiting for cues. So it happened now. I stayed with Kitty’s 
family in their villa; one of a number recently built close to the sand- 
dunes. It was the same disorderly, ramshackle household I remembered 
from the previous occasion. Mrs Dobbs prepared the meals, such as they 
were; in the process getting herself covered with flour, caked with fat, 
sticky with sugar and burning her long leathery fingers - sores which 
she ignored. If the conversation was raging - which it usually was - she 
would emerge from her kitchen, steaming saucepan in one hand, a ladle 



136 The Green Stick 

in the other, and join in. Her intellectual interests took precedence over 
all other; there were no circumstances in which she would refrain from 
participating in a discussion on immortality or the extent of space. 
Dead or alive, she was there for the kill. Over the explosive sound of a 
brew boiling over, in the lurid light of a roast catching fire, one would 
hear her proclaiming her views on the ego which affirms and the ego 
which denies. When at last her tumultuous chores were over, the last 
mouthful of horse-meat washed down by the last gulp of vinegarish vin 
ordinaire , she was off to catch the final light of the setting sun, working 
away with her paints and brushes as long as she could see, and even 
after. She did not really need to see; what she painted was the notion of 
a sunset, rather than anything she saw in the sky, built up from many 
sunsets, seen, enthused over, and painted over the years. She could 
do it in her sleep. When she died, she left behind her trunkfuls of 
paintings, all equally good, or bad, and mostly of the same subjects. The 
only thing she liked better than painting was having rows, of which, 
when the family were in residence, there were endless possibilities. 
Once, when I was walking with her along the digue at Knocke, she 
noticed a crowd that had gathered, all looking out to sea. Excitedly, she 
rushed up to one of them and asked in her nasal French: 4 Qu'est ce 
qu'on regarde V When she heard it was just a passing ship, her face fell: 

4 1 thought it was a row,* she said to me, so disappointedly. 

Mr Dobbs did not stay in the villa, making the excuse that his work 
required him to reside at one of the hotels to which the Lunn tourists 
came. He was a neat, particular man, well turned out, trim and gallant. 
It was a strange chance which had yoked him with so wild and wayward a 
spouse, and I daresay he pined at times for someone more amenable and 
more salubrious. Yet in some ways he admired his wife, to the point of 
almost being awed by her; he was like, I used to think, an Irish coachman 
driving a particularly wild pony in a jaunting car. Tugging at the reins, 
cracking his whip - 4 Whoa, there!' but aware that his horse, however 
difficult to manage, was a spirited animal, comparing favourably with 
more mediocre ones even though they might offer greater ease, and 
perhaps even pleasure, to their masters. 

They had met when Mrs Dobbs was a comfortably-off widow 
travelling about on her own in Europe. Her first husband, by whom she 
had one son who was killed in the 1914-18 war, died of syphilis, con- 
tracted as a young man. She once described to me his howls for morphia 
in the last stages of the illness, and other horrors, with the same object- 
ivity as she did any other experience, good or bad. Her total absence of 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 137 

jealousy arose out of the same impersonality. On one occasion, she told 
me, her first husband, when he was away, had telegraphed to her to 
meet him at the railway station on his return because something terrible 
had happened during his absence. Greatly concerned, she met him, only 
to learn with relief that what was troubling him was that he had been 
unfaithful. ‘I thought it was serious,* she blandly remarked. In worldly 
terms, she was totally innocent; Eve before the Fall, with no knowledge 
of good and evil. She made one realise how necessary the Fall was; 
without it, there would have been no human drama, and so no literature, 
no art, no suffering, no religion, no laughter, no joy, no sin and no 
redemption. Only camera work (towards which Mrs Dobbs’s painting 
was reaching) and sociology (which her sister, Beatrice Webb, may be 
said to have invented). 

The point was well illustrated by one small incident at the villa. 
Somehow, there had come into the house an artificial chocolate eclair, 
which, when you bit into it, emitted a squeak. This was tried on various 
visitors, with resultant hilarity, in which, however, I noticed that Mrs 
Dobbs did not join. When the humorous possibilities of the eclair were 
exhausted, she took possession of it with a view to trying it on a Belgian 
woman who worked for her, and who, having a large family, no husband 
and very little money, and being normally rather hungry herself, might 
be expected to bite into the eclair with genuine zest, thus, in Mrs Dobbs’s 
estimation, giving a real point to the joke. In the Garden of Eden before 
the Fall, only such joking would have been permissible. Likewise, in the 
New Garden of Eden now taking shape, in which the twin curses of 
work and procreation laid on the erring Adam and Eve will be lifted - 
banished to computers and laboratories, and the knowledge of Good 
and Evil they illicitly acquired, abolished, thus restoring the innocence 
our first progenitors lost, and making the earth a paradise again - of a 
sort. 

Mrs Dobbs’s account of her adventures after her first husband’s 
death, written down in a journal she kept in her nearly illegible spidery 
hand, meandering on and on like her speech, is full of repetitive de- 
scriptions of sunsets and mountain peaks, and banal moralising, with 
occasional flashes where she describes some human encounter luridly lit 
by that monstrous innocence of hers. Thus, in Rome she made the 
acquaintance of George Gissing, the dreary late-Victorian novelist, 
author of New Grub Street and The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft , so 
beloved of Orwell, who was, he told me shortly before he died, projecting 
a book on him. Gissing at that time was staying in Rome, and, in the 



138 The Green Stick 

estimation of his friend H. G. Wells, being starved to death by a French 
woman with whom he was co-habiting. Mrs Dobbs, whom Wells knew, 
seemed the heaven-sent answer to the dilemma; as a good-looking, 
reasonably well-off, unattached widow, she was just the person to carry 
Gissing off, and give him three square meals a day. Every age has its 
own special buffoon; as honourable a role as any of Shakespeare’s Fools. 
My choice for this comic Ombudsman of our time has always been Wells. 
I realised that he stood alone when I read his account of a conversation 
he had with Stalin in the Kremlin, in the course of which, as he put it, 
he tried to interest him in the PEN Club; but Stalin, he observes sadly, 
failed to kindle, which one can well believe. Gissing, it seems, responded 
favourably to Wells’s proposal, and made what Mrs Dobbs used to 
refer to as an offer. After due consideration, she turned it down, less 
dazzled by Gissing’s literary distinction than appalled by his meagre 
physique and melancholy disposition. Shortly after, she met Dobbs 
who, though no literary figure, had none of Gissing’s other disabilities. 
She bore him five children, of whom Kitty was the middle one, and the 
only girl. 

Remarriage provided Mrs Dobbs with ample opportunities for 
indulging her taste for having rows. It was virtually impossible to 
contract out, since the rows were not about anything. Thus, it was no 
use avoiding a particular subject, or refusing to respond to a particular 
inflammatory observation. The row existed apart from its occasion; it 
was in the air like lightning, and bound to strike. A row might be 
ostensibly about stoking the fire, the circumference of the earth, the date 
of the last General Election but one, or the coastline of Alaska, but after 
exhausting oneself on one or other of these themes, one realised that they 
were as irrelevant to the fury unleashed as Lear’s ‘Blow, winds, and 
crack your cheeks! rage! blow!* to the storm that raged about his head 
on the Blasted Heath. 

Dobbs himself was, of course, a leading belligerent, though, not 
being in residence, he was able to make strategic withdrawals, as it were, 
into neutral territory to rest and re-equip. Kitty, too, was actively 
engaged. She felt passionately, as I understood later, that she had to 
defend herself against her mother’s predatory innocence, which would 
otherwise destroy her. Thus, on one occasion her mother told her that if 
she wished to have a baby without getting married, there would be no 
difficulty about the cost and making suitable arrangements. I had a 
similar breath of Eden air - only in my case, being an outsider, it was 
just funny rather than suffocating - when Mrs Dobbs told me that, as a 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 139 

young girl, when she went out in London by herself she was followed at 
a respectable distance by a footman in case she needed protection. The 
family lived then in Kensington Palace Gardens, and her father - 
Richard Potter, a business man and speculator - was very rich. The 
arrangement, Mrs Dobbs remarked, struck her as quite derisory, since 
the footman was usually far more sexually attractive than anyone of her 
own class or acquaintance she was likely to encounter. I can quite see 
that, from Adam’s point of view, the apple came as a blessed deliverance; 
the Fall was mankind’s first step to heaven, and it is interesting that 
all the Devil’s advocates, from Epicurus to Rousseau, Walt Whitman, 
Marx and D f H. Lawrence, want to abolish it and regain an earthly 
paradise. 

An episode which Kitty described to me seemed to convey with par- 
ticular clarity the character of her long wrestling match with her mother. 
The two of them had climbed Mont Salfeve, a hill overlooking the Lake of 
Geneva. Mrs Dobbs had been sketching, seated on her camp-stool, her 
easel set up, dipping and sometimes sucking her brushes, her unseeing 
eyes fixed on the Dent du Midi, whose outline she knew as perfectly as a 
Presbyterian minister his extempore prayers, or a television comedian 
his autocued patter. Overcome by the heat of the day, she lay down her 
brushes, and threw herself on the bare earth for a short rest. Kitty was 
reading, her face wearing an expression of rebellious resignation very 
familiar to me, and very characteristic of her. The quiet between them 
was broken when Mrs Dobbs let out a shriek, and said she had been 
bitten by an adder in her neck. Kitty made a move to kill the snake, but 
Mrs Dobbs told her not to hurt the innocent little creature since it had 
intended no harm. They were a long way from anywhere, and the only 
thing Kitty could think of doing was to suck the poison from her 
mother’s neck, which she did, afterwards spitting it out. On the way 
home, down the steep and rough mountain track, she supported Mrs 
Dobbs, who occasionally passed out as the venom took effect. When they 
reached the bottom of the hill, Kitty wanted to take a taxi, but Mrs Dobbs 
would not hear of it. So they went by tram; a macabre journey, the two 
of them drawing many stares from the other passengers, of which Mrs 
Dobbs took no notice. She was always completely unconscious of other 
people, and what they thought; lying down, getting up, walking or eating 
or sleeping just when she felt inclined. I once, when we were living in 
Sussex, found her stretched out fast asleep on a tombstone in Battle 
churchyard; nor was she in the least abashed when she came to, and 
found me standing there and staring at her. 



140 The Green Stick 

It somehow became understood that Kitty and I would get married, 
and quite soon. I cannot recall ever ‘proposing* to her - something we 
should both have regarded as very bourgeois and conventional; terms of 
abuse in our vocabulary. Nor can I remember any moment of decision; 
or, for that matter, of indecision. Free will, in my experience, is tactical 
rather than strategic; in all the larger shaping of a life, there is a plan 
already, into which one has no choice but to fit, or contract out of living 
altogether. So, it was borne in upon me that Kitty and I belonged 
together; that somehow, to me, the shape and sense and sound of her 
existence in the universe would always be appreciable in every corner 
of it, and through all eternity. To this essential proposition all sorts of 
other hopes, desires, appetites, egotistic aspirations, corporeal needs and 
mental strivings, were attached, like subordinate clauses; sex being one 
of these. 

Mr Dobbs was far from pleased; he considered me - and who shall 
blame him? - as socially and financially an undesirable match for his 
daughter. Mrs Dobbs, on the other hand, was delighted. I overheard 
her once, when the subject was under discussion, observe that I was a 
genius; a word which even then I regarded as derisory (still more so 
now), and that, as I well knew, signified, as far as she was concerned, 
something between Virginia Woolf and Verlaine, with Oscar Wilde 
hovering about in the distance. A Bloomsburyite figure with Mont- 
parnasse affiliations; boozy Augustus Johnian, bearded Laurentian, 
squeaky Wellsian; with broad-brimmed black hat, large floppy tie, Caf6 
Royal frequenting, Stein-Toklas admiring, James Joyce reading. A com- 
pendium of all horrors. All the same, I have to admit that, even on Mrs 
Dobbs*s lips, the word, applied to me, gave me a secret frisson of 
demonic joy, such as, perhaps, Joan of Arc might have felt if she had 
overheard the Master of the King’s Bedchamber remark that she bore a 
passing resemblance to Cleopatra. 

Our union was duly registered at the Birmingham Register Office; a 
drab little scene in a dreary sort of place, where numerous couples were 
waiting about, though whether to be married or divorced or judicially 
separated their demeanour did not make clear. The Registrar himself 
made a forlorn attempt to introduce a festive note into the proceedings, 
and wore, I noticed, a rather better suit and a rather more colourful tie 
than might be expected in a civil servant of his grade. Did he, I won- 
dered, receive a special allowance to cover this? Kitty’s father, and a 
friend of hers named Elsie, were the only others present, and acted as 
witnesses. We affected to regard the occasion as of no particular im- 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 141 

portance; a mere legal formality, like signing a contract for a job or a 
lease of a house. It was not our intention, we insisted, to put one another 
under any sort of obligation; we were free to do what we liked, and 
would only stay together as long as both of us wanted to; not a moment 
longer. Even so, I bought Kitty a wedding ring; a very cheap one, 
admittedly, made of rolled, not real, gold, but it has lasted. She wears it 
still. I did not have a new suit; only a grey flannel one from my Cambridge 
days. Kitty wore a green velveteen jacket with an accordion pleated 
skirt. We had very little money - certainly not more than £100, and 
no furniture or possessions apart from clothes and a few books. I 
was a little dashed, if not alarmed, when, on receiving a cheque for 
fifteen guineas from Sir Henry Lunn as a wedding present, Kitty at 
once tore it up on the ground that he was a despicable figure. This 
happened at St Aidan’s Clergy House in the presence of the clergy, 
who, after we had gone, piously gathered the pieces together and man- 
aged to reconstruct the cheque. It was never, however, paid into the 
bank. 

It was very unkind, as I now realise, not to have asked my parents, 
especially my father, who, as I afterwards learnt, was deeply hurt. 
Incredible as it seems, I just didn’t think of it; though there may have 
been some unconscious reluctance to have him there, some sense that his 
presence would be awkward. Mrs Dobbs showed me a letter from her 
sister, Beatrice Webb, in which she wrote that she knew my father as ‘a 
Fabian and a very worthy person, though of modest means’. Truly, 
there is no snobbishness like that of professing equalitarians. My father 
bridled at Mrs Webb’s attitude: ‘And to think,’ he wrote in a letter to 
me about it, ‘that I gave up a directorship!’ It was indeed ironical that 
she, a champion of Socialist fair shares, should look down on him for the 
very thing - his modest means - he owed to his espousal of the same 
cause. All this escaped me at the time; or rather, perhaps, I deliberately 
averted my eyes. I was well content to be marrying into so, in Socialist 
terms, patrician a family; like a young Tory marrying into the Cecils or 
Cavendishes, though admittedly a junior branch. I think my father was 
well pleased, too, despite Mrs Webb’s patronising attitude, the Webbs 
having so honoured a place among his idols. 

Mr Dobbs just turned up for our wedding without being asked; 
looking, as always, very trim; everything about him neat and shipshape, 
brown shoes shining, grey moustache like a well trimmed hedge, 
smartly cut suit, jaunty hat. He was devoted to Kitty, and felt that, if 
she should change her mind at the last moment, or events took an 



142 The Green Stick 

unexpected turn, he ought to be there to look after her interests and 
arrange a getaway if required. When, in the course of the ceremony, the 
Registrar put the crucial question, he intervened sharply, telling her in a 
loud voice that there was still time for her to withdraw. She just took no 
notice, and our union was legally sealed. It made as little impression on 
me as the baptism and confirmation service to get into Selwyn College. 
Once the matter was finally settled, Mr Dobbs put a good face on it, and 
gave us all luncheon with a bottle of champagne. Then he and Elsie left 
for London, and Kitty and I returned to our two furnished rooms and 
began our life together. 

Marriage (whether registered or not) begins, not with setting up house, 
counting wedding presents, blowing kisses, looking at wedding groups, 
but with two bodies confronting one another like two wrestlers. To 
clinch and struggle and contend with one another. Rolling about, now 
one on top, now another; grunting, coaxing, sweating, murmuring, 
yelling. So the world began, with vast turbulence in the genitalia of 
space. Each bodily union is a microcosm of the same process; a con- 
tinuation of creation, a reaching after creativity through the fusion of 
two beings - the flesh first; then the soul, the totality, to make a third. 
This achieved, peace follows; the work done, we may sleep, letting an 
arm grow numb rather than wake a sleeping head cushioned there. So 
serenely asleep after the battle, and maybe already ovum and sperm 
seizing the interlude to enact their own drama; the expense of passion 
quickening in its peaceful aftermath. We exist to continue existence; 
unite to be united; love in order to go on loving. 

Kitty and I, after all, were children of our time. How could we be 
otherwise? We looked to our bodies for gratification, which we felt they 
owed us, and that we now owed one another. To our bodies turn we 
then, that so Weak men on love revealed may look.* It was inevitable 
that this pursuit should become the prevailing preoccupation, the 
obsessive quest, of our restless and confused generation. Sex is the only 
mysticism offered by materialism, whose other toys -like motor-cars 
and aeroplanes and moving pictures and swimming-pools and flights 
to the moon - soon pall. Sex pure and undefiled; without the burden of 
procreation, or even, ultimately, of love or identity. Just sex; jointly 
attained, or solitary - derived from visions, drug-infused; from spec- 
tacles, on film or glossy paper. Up and down moving stairways, with, 
just out of reach, legs and busts and mouths and crotches; ascending to 
no heights, descending to no depths, only movement upwards and down- 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 143 

wards, interminably, with the trivial images of desire for ever in view, 
and for ever inaccessible. As enlightened readers of D. H. Lawrence and 
Havelock Ellis, with even a peep at Kraft-Ebbing, we looked for rarer 
pleasures than these. Our moving stairway, as we hoped, climbed into 
a paradise where ecstasy was attainable through sensation pure and 
undefiled. The Blessed Orgasm itself leaned out from the gold bar of 
heaven; and, rubber-stoppered against any adverse consequence like 
birth, sealed and sterilised and secured for coitus non interruptus that is 
guaranteed non fecundus } we pursued happiness in true twentieth- 
century style. 

Kitty’s family seemed to be bristling with lords and, if not million- 
aires, people who on Croydon standards were decidedly affluent. Mrs 
Webb told me once with quiet satisfaction that none of her brothers-in- 
law (except Mr Dobbs) had less than £20,000 a year, which seemed a lot. 
I had never made the acquaintance of a lord before, and though at the 
Saturday evening gatherings of my father and his friends the mere 
notion of titles was a subject of loud derision, they still had a certain 
glamour in my eyes. I found myself going out of my way to bring 
references to Kitty’s titled relatives into my conversation, but hoped to 
counteract any sycophantic undertones by making the references scorn- 
ful rather than respectful. In this connection, I used to enjoy repeating 
one of my father’s favourite anecdotes about how he had been mys- 
teriously approached as to whether one of his directors would care to 
have a knighthood for £10,000 - a very substantial sum in those days. 
After agonised consideration by the director in question, the offer was 
turned down. My father never found out for certain who was behind it, 
but had reason to suppose that the then monarch, Edward VII, who was 
notoriously impecunious, may have been concerned in the transaction. 
After all, if politicians were to enrich themselves, as, for instance, 
Lloyd George did, by the sale of honours, why not the sovereign, who 
bestowed them? I found my father’s account of this affair among his 
papers. 

The Potter clan, to which Mrs Dobbs belonged, like other plutocratic 
families whose wealth derived from business, tended to drift Leftwards 
politically; towards Radicalism, Socialism and the Labour Party, picking 
up peerages and knighthoods on the way. Richard Potter, the founding 
father, was a timber merchant who provided army huts in the Crimean 
War to any government that would pay for them, thereby making a 
fortune which he later increased by audacious speculation. As a rich man 
with a difficult, if not demented, wife, and a large family of spirited 



144 The Green Stick 

daughters, he took his philosophical notions from Herbert Spencer 
and his moral ones from Carlyle, whom he held in the highest esteem* 
So much so that, according to Mrs Dobbs, when the ferocious old Sage 
of Chelsea went exercising along the Embankment, muttering and 
grimacing over his gnarled stick, her father and one or two other rich 
and distinguished citizens often followed at a respectful distance behind 
him. The scene, as she described it, took my fancy as an early example of 
what Tom Wolfe has so felicitously called Radical Chic, though, of 
course, they have subsequently found other gurus, including Stalin. As 
for Spencer, largely forgotten now, but famous in his day as the ex- 
ponent of Creative Evolution -he was a frequent house guest. Mrs Dobbs 
remembered him as a little frightening in the way he playfully tumbled 
little girls when he took them for nature walks in the woods. According 
to a theory plausibly worked out by Kitty, he may well have been the 
original of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. 

The first of Kitty’s titled relatives whose acquaintance I made was 
Lady Courtney, her Aunt Kate, who asked us to lunch in her house in 
Cheyne Walk. Her husband, Leonard Courtney, by this time dead, had 
been a Liberal stalwart, a Member of Parliament and Chairman of 
Committees, and a Times leader-writer who was raised to the Peerage 
after the Liberal victory of 1906. One of those men of whom everyone 
speaks well, and who surprise everyone by leaving rather more money 
when they die than might have been expected. He actively promoted a 
whole string of good causes - bimetallism, proportional representation, 
anti-imperialism, disarmament - with which I was to become all too 
familiar on the Manchester Guardian . He was fanatically devoted to the 
poems of Robert Browning, which he was fond of reciting to his nieces 
on Beachy Head, sometimes in a howling gale. Kitty recalls embroider- 
ing bedroom slippers for him as a child. I never saw him, nor even a 
picture of him, though there must have been many in the Cheyne Walk 
house, but I had a very clear impression of him as bearded, sedate, 
immensely solid and deliberate and full of rectitude. These great pillars 
of righteousness, from Wilberforce to Martin Luther King, have fol- 
lowed, as it were, like solemn funeral mutes the long obsequies of western 
civilisation; as they fell by the way, others coming forward to take their 
places. Now the time has nearly come for the coffin to be actually 
interred. Then at last their occupation will be gone for ever. 

Lady Courtney herself, though by this time quite old, had the black 
and white colouring of the Potters, with a noticeable moustache on her 
upper lip, which, clearly untended, was silky rather than bristly in an 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 145 

embrace. There was said to be a gipsy strain in the family; plausible 
enough in Lady Courtney, and in Mrs Dobbs quite noticeable, particu- 
larly in her last years. She had a great fancy for picking over things, and 
gathering faggots, especially on a beach; as well as for cooking over an 
open fire. When only an electric radiator was available, she would turn 
it over on its side and brew weird concoctions on it. People quite often 
took her for an old gipsy woman, and offered her charity, which she 
invariably accepted. A kind gentleman on a bus, she told me once, had 
given her a shilling to pay her fare, and told her to keep the change. Did 
you? I asked. Of course, she answered primly. Though Lady Courtney 
herself looked and lived like an upper-class lady, even in her one sensed 
a vagrant strain just under the surface. In all the Potter households I 
visited, this was particularly noticeable in connection with meals, which, 
however lavish and elegantly served, were always somehow fragmentary 
and furtive, as though wrapped in a newspaper and hastily gobbled. 
One was aware of one’s hostess’s eye on one as one sliced into the butter 
or poured out the cream. Similarly with money; Mrs Dobbs’s cheques 
looked old and stained, as though taken out of some secret hoard under 
the floorboards. 

In her widowhood, Lady Courtney continued to support all her 
husband’s causes, especially peace. She was closely associated with 
organisations like the Women’s International League for Peace and 
Freedom. Indeed, there was a lady from this organisation - a Miss 
Sheepshank - present at our luncheon. Lady Courtney had, she told us, 
just finished embroidering their peace banner, a white dove on a green 
background. After lunch, she proudly and reverently showed it to us. 
It was, she said, to be hung in the Chelsea Town Hall. Wliere is it now? 
I winder. Carried into battle by Women’s Lib battalions, maybe; or in 
some celestial museum laid beside the Stalingrad Sword. Her house was 
packed tight with furniture, pictures, objets d’art, ornaments, knick- 
knacks. Until I got used to them, upper-class houses always seemed to 
me like antique shops by comparison with the ones I knew. So chock-a- 
block with things; many of them so fragile that one scarcely dared to 
move or stretch for fear of breaking something enormously valuable. As 
it happened, I witnessed the dismantling of Lady’s Courtney’s establish- 
ment. When she died, we were notified by Mrs Webb that she had 
expressed in her will a wish that every descendant of Richard Potter (she 
had no children of her own) should choose some memento of her from 
her effects. On a fixed day and time, we were all to come to Cheyne 
Walk and make our choice. Kitty and I went along. It was a remarkable 

C.W.T. — K 



146 The Green Stick 

scene. Mrs Webb watched, hawk-eyed, over the proceedings. When we 
arrived, there were some hundred and fifty Richard Potter descendants 
roaming about the house like stampeding cattle. The niceties of polite 
behaviour were all laid aside; people picked up chairs and tables and 
brought out magnifying glasses to fix their period, carried objets d’art 
to the window to examine them more closely, eagerly turned over the 
pages of books in search of rarities. By the book-shelves I heard someone 
exclaim bitterly: ‘They’ve taken away the Shelley and the Bronte first 
editions!* Any efforts to circumvent the conditions and make off with 
more than one memento were spotted by Mrs Webb, who resolutely 
took counter-action. By the time they had finished, the place looked like 
some of the interiors I remember in the 1939-45 war after a looting 
session. Confronted by this scene of confusion, Kitty contented herself 
with picking up a jewel - a little starfish, set, as we fondly hoped, in 
diamonds - as being easily removable and disposable. When, in sub- 
sequent hard times, we tried to flog it, it turned out to be only paste, 
and worth no more than ten-and-six. 

In the matter of meeting Kitty’s distinguished relatives, for me the 
big occasion, of course, was going to spend a week-end with the Webbs. 
I had heard them spoken of in tones of reverence by my father and his 
friends from my earliest years. So I approached the house they lived in 
at Passfield Corner with a decided feeling of awe, riding in an ancient 
hired car which had met us at Liphook Station. The Webbs never had 
a motor-car of their own. A Scottish maid - one of a pair who served 
Mrs Webb for many years - let us in. They were women of the utmost 
discretion who remained completely unaffected and uncontaminated by 
the procession of cranks, crackpots and egomaniacs who flowed through 
the house; in some mysterious way, they kept to the very end their 
Scottish self-containment and impregnable complacency. One of them 
asked Kitty, after we had returned from the USSR, whether the Five- 
Year Plan answered. It was a question which indicated, I thought, a very 
creditable scepticism in spite of the concerted insistence of their 
employers and most of their guests that the success of every Soviet 
venture must be assured. 

Mrs Webb was waiting for us in the sitting-room, standing, as she so 
often did, with her back to the fire, and swaying slightly to and fro. So 
completely different from her sister Kate; frail and white, almost ghostly, 
by comparison with the other’s solidity. She rushed at Kitty in a way the 
Potter women had, hurling herself upon her with a kind of avidity, as 
though to assure herself that Kitty was indeed there in her bodily 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 147 

presence. Jewish women, I have noticed, do likewise with children; 
kneading their cheeks, feeling their arms and legs, fingering their ears 
and hair. I also was asked to implant a kiss upon Mrs Webb’s cheek; an 
experience comparable, I imagine, with kissing the big toe of a marble 
saint. The thing that struck me about her at once was her beauty, so 
reminiscent of Kitty’s. A beauty of bone rather than of flesh. She was 
also, as I sensed, tragic; not in any trivial way of deprivation - like 
losing the lover she fancied (though that had happened, as I learnt after-* 
wards, in the person, ridiculously enough, of Joseph Chamberlain; a 
preposterous engraving of a man, with wooden features and a monocle, 
who habitually wore an orchid in his button-hole; a Birmingham in- 
dustrialist and Radical turned Imperialist). Hers was some deeper 
tragedy, with which I felt instinctively in sympathy. To do with her 
restless walks along the Embankment; with her prayers, offered in a 
silent cavernous Westminster Abbey, but alas wrongly addressed - dead 
letters that were never delivered; with sleepless nights, and the long- 
ing so often expressed in her journal for the long, definitive sleep of 
death. 

Webb came toddling in. He really was a ridiculous looking man, with 
tiny legs and feet, a protruding stomach, and a large head. A sort of 
pedestrian Toulouse-Lautrec. It was as though Mrs Webb, not being 
able to have her monocled giant, chose this dwarf in pince-nez instead. 
Such temperaments as hers always try to ridicule their own passions by 
making a moral tale of them; planting gargoyles where the steeple 
should have climbed into the sky. Webb was her gargoyle; the reductio ad 
absurdum of love and lovers; a Blue Book Abelard, or computer Casanova; 
Sancho Panza to their friend Shaw’s Don Quixote. Maybe, I sometimes 
used to reflect, Shaw would have provided a compromise mate for her; 
something between the monocle and the pince-nez. She told me once 
that, the first time they were alone together, Shaw ‘simply threw himself 
upon me’. It was something, she went on, lest I should suppose this 
experience had any significance in her eyes, or, for that matter in his, 
that he did to every woman, and she had so sternly rebuffed him that 
nothing of the kind ever happened again. If the thought had crossed her 
mind that the tall, red-bearded, pale-faced jester would have been a more 
diverting companion than the partner she chose, and Plays Pleasant and 
Unpleasant a more diverting oeuvre than the forbidding tomes the Webb 
partnership produced, about which she always spoke disparagingly, she 
took a characteristic and terrible revenge by ensuring that Shaw was 
married, not to one of the luscious actresses like Ellen Terry, or ad- 



148 The Green Stick 

vanced ladies like Annie Besant that he occasionally fancied, and she so 
disliked (she made the word ‘advanced* somehow more detestable by 
accentuating the second syllable and shortening the ‘a*), but to Charlotte 
Payne-Townshend, an Irish lady of great plainness and considerable 
wealth. He met her at the Webbs* house; it was Mrs Webb who made 
the match, and resolutely cut off his retreat when he tried to make a 
getaway. 

Mrs Webb*s household rose early; before breakfast one would see her, 
if the weather was fine, roaming about the garden; not with the eye or 
step of a gardener, more in the style of a tigress pacing up and down its 
cage. If she caught sight of one looking out, she would pause and begin 
a conversation, liable to be even less discreet then than at the indoors 
sessions. I remember on one such occasion leaning out of the window to 
hear from her the most scabrous particulars of eminent Fabian Society 
and Labour Party figures like MacDonald and Bertrand Russell and 
Wells, most of whom she intensely disliked or despised. ‘Poor little 
Wells/ she always called him. This side of her nature - curious, gossipy, 
scandalous - which gives piquancy to her enormous Journal, brought 
out all the true vivacity and charm, the audacity and insolence, in her, so 
muffled in the partnership with her dreary little consort and their joint 
enterprises, in which, in my opinion, she had little real interest, and 
played little real part. Certainly, her own writing, in the Journal and in 
her autobiographical works, is quite different in style and mood from 
their joint efforts. 

After lunch Mrs Webb rested, and Sidney was instructed to take a 
walk along with any male visitors who happened to be present; ladies 
were expected to follow Mrs Webb*s example and lie down - which did 
not please Kitty. Exercise was considered to be good for Sidney; though 
his diet was strictly controlled by Mrs Webb, and certain things like 
bacon and egg which he particularly appreciated denied him, he still 
was a hearty eater, and liable to put on weight. Once out of sight of the 
house, his zest for walking markedly diminished, and he usually looked 
round for some convenient haystack where he could take a nap. If it was 
hot and there were flies about, he would knot his handkerchief and wear 
it on his head. It was on one such occasion that he complained to me 
that there were no novels of business life which he had been able to 
discover, and asked whether I knew of any. I mentioned Dombey and Son 
and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but the suggestion was not acceptable. 
After a discreet interval, he would shake himself awake, get up and 
return to the house, quickening his step so as to arrive in a convincing 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 149 

condition of breathlessness and lather. His physique facilitated this mild 
deception, since he easily perspired. Mrs Webb was in the habit of, as it 
were, issuing brief bulletins about his bodily propensities - as, ‘Sidney 
sweats!' or, explaining the impossibility of their sharing a bedroom, 
‘Sidney snoresl' - which he seemed to find totally inoffensive; even, 
perhaps, endearing. 

The evening was given over to talk, and in Mrs Webb's case, to an 
occasional herbal cigarette; in his, a cigar. If there were several guests, 
Mrs Webb would arrange them hierarchically. Thus her nephew 
Stafford Cripps would take precedence over Kitty and me, but we would 
be more considered than some mousy little secretary or archivist allowed 
to join the company. An earl, actually Bertrand Russell's brother, who 
who had recently come into the Labour Movement, got better treatment 
than a don like Harold Laski who had been in it for years. Only in Simla 
in the days of the British Raj did I come across such careful placement . 
Sometimes her hierarchical arrangements were enforced at the risk of 
being thought rude; as in the case of the Dean of Canterbury, Dr 
Hewlett Johnson, who turned up after a telephone call inviting himself 
had given Mrs Webb the impression that it was the Archbishop who 
proposed a visit. The Dean was amiably but firmly put in his place. All 
opinions and anecdotes from our hosts were joint ones, delivered with 
the editorial or royal ‘We*. For instance, describing a visit to Trotsky, 
when he was in exile on the Turkish Island of Prinkipo, Mrs Webb 
recalled how the sometime Soviet Commissar for War had remarked 
that even in England a bloody revolution would be required. ‘We told 
him NoV she triumphantly concluded. While Mrs Webb regaled us 
with anecdotes, Sidney sat stroking his beard, with a look of sly con- 
tentment on his face; as though just being a party to such glories was 
enough for him. His little legs seldom reached the ground, and I won- 
dered how it would have been possible for Mrs Webb's long, lithe 
body to curl up on so tiny a lap; as she claimed happened when they 
broke off their labours for a little - her term - ‘spooning'. It seemed an 
impracticable proposition to me; like the angels dancing on a needle- 
point which so troubled medieval schoolmen. 

By the time the ancient vehicle arrived on Monday morning for the 
return journey, the Webbs were already at work. I once, greatly daring, 
peeped in at them. He was seated at a desk; as it might have been, back 
at the Colonial Office, where, before his marriage, he worked as a civil 
servant. A gnome-like amanuensis, pen strokes steady, stance assured. 
She was prowling about the room as, earlier, she had about the garden. 



1 50 The Green Stick 

There they were, planning our future, and along lines that actually came 
to pass in a matter of a very few years. A weird enough pair to be so 
engaged, to be sure; Beauty and the Beast, twentieth-century style, I 
thought. Or, better, following Blake, he the mole watching the roots, 
she the eagle, watching the fruits; he burrowing about underground, she 
soaring into some wild sky of her own imagining. A two-man demolition 
squad, enormously effective, as it turned out; operating in their snug 
Hampshire home, with the two Scottish maids keeping everything ship- 
shape, preparing the special scones and shortcake Mrs Webb found so 
palatable, and everlastingly asking themselves what, if anything, 
answered. What the mole got out of it all was obvious; when, as Lord 
Passfield, he found himself sitting in the Secretary of State’s chair in the 
Colonial Office he felt so contented that, for once, his mind lapsed into 
total quiescence. It was, after all, the same chair that Joseph Chamber- 
lain had once occupied; and the mere being in it sufficed. 

But what of the eagle? What did she hope to get out of it? This was a 
more complicated question. I got the clue, I think, the very last time I 
saw her, not so very long before she died. We had been quarrelling, 
more or less publicly, about the Soviet regime, which she had come to 
adulate, and I to detest, thus reversing our positions when we first met. 
At the same time, she continued to fascinate me, for her beauty, and for 
that tragic quality in her which she retained to the end; both charac- 
teristics which intensified with age. She, likewise, for some reason, went 
on wanting to see Kitty and me. So we still visited Passfield occasionally. 
On this last visit, just as we were leaving, she said she had something to 
show me. It turned out to be a portrait of Lenin, presented to her by the 
Soviet Government; as stylised and cheap, artistically speaking, as any 
print of a Saint of the Church or Blessed Martyr offered for sale in 
Lourdes. She had set the picture up as though it were a Velazquez, with 
special lighting coming up from below, and a fine vista for looking at it. 
It was vivid in its way, showing the tiny eyes, the Mongolian features, 
the resolute chin and cruel mouth of its subject. For her, I realised, the 
place was a shrine; she looked positively exalted there - uplifted, 
worshipful, in an almost frightening way, like someone possessed. A 
frail, aged bourgeois lady, wearing, as she usually did, a grey silk dress 
and pretty lace cap on her head, prostrating herself, metaphorically 
speaking, before the founding father of the twentieth-century totali- 
tarian state, the arch-terrorist of our time! It was extraordinary and 
rather horrifying. Afterwards, I reflected that the two scenes I had 
witnessed - the Webbs at work, and Mrs Webb at prayer before her 



The Pursuit of Righteous?iess 1 5 1 

Lenin picture - embodied the 'whole spirit of the age, showing her to be 
a true priestess and prophetess; pursuing truth through facts and 
arriving at fantasy, seeking deliverance through power and arriving at 
servitude. 

I went on with my supply-teaching in Birmingham, looking forward 
more than ever to ‘Now the day is over* on Friday afternoon, and the 
two days of freedom in Kitty’s company that followed. In our new 
intimacy together, as I got to know her better, I found her companion-’ 
ship ever more delightful. This has continued to be so throughout our 
forty-odd years together; despite rows, separations, jealousies, in^ 
fidelities, all the usual wear and tear of a marital relationship. Troubles 
which, at the time, were very agonising, sometimes desperately so, now, 
looked back on, seem rather trivial by comparison with the love between 
us that has steadily grown, like a tree, in the soil of our discontent, 
striking ever deeper roots, reaching ever higher into the sky. 

From Mr Dobbs’s point of view, with his old-fashioned Anglo-Irish 
views as to what constituted success in a career or socially, a son-in-law 
who was an elementary school supply teacher was not to be brooked. 
It was he, therefore, who drew my attention to an advertisement for 
teachers at government schools in Egypt. The salary was appreciably 
more than I was getting in Birmingham, the conditions of employment 
seemed satisfactory; what, above all, recommended the job to me was 
that it involved making off. One more fix with the going-away drugl I 
applied, and was accepted. There was not much competition, anyway; 
employment with the Egyptian P.I. (Public Instruction) offered no 
prospects in the way of advancement or pensions, and most of the 
applicants were very young, and from what are now called Red Brick 
universities, or middle-aged to elderly, with indeterminate qualifications 
and an air of having failed or run into trouble somewhere along the line, 
characters for Evelyn Waugh. Kitty and I packed up our effects, such 
as they were, and set off cheerfully for Minia in Upper Egypt, via 
Paris, Genoa, Alexandria and Cairo. 

Life in Minia was rather reminiscent of India, except that the erosion 
of British power had proceeded farther. As the Empire ran down, the 
former beneficiaries - the putative colonial governors, district adminis- 
trators, collectors and all the other recipients of the vast and varied 
patronage it offered to the middle and upper classes in its heyday - 
displayed a remarkable flair for knowing when to leave the sinking ship. 
It seems to be almost their sole surviving talent. There was a British 
Consul in Minia who was also district manager for a large British 



1 52 The Green Stick 

cotton firm. He maintained a position of sorts, had the Royal Arms over 
his door and gave parties; there was even a club where local English 
gathered, along with Egyptians of standing like landowners and import- 
ant civil servants. The local Greeks were mostly excluded as being out- 
side the pale; we in the P.I. were accepted, but only just, our academic 
qualifications compensating for our lowly position as teachers under an 
Egyptian headmaster. Our school work was mostly no more than 
elementary language teaching; even then, I am doubtful if the boys 
learnt much from me. I stood in front of the class just as I had in 
Alwaye and in Birmingham, a blackboard behind me and faces before 
me, only vaguely aware of what I was supposed to be doing, and listening 
for a bell to ring, bringing my release. Kitty and I spent most of our 
time in one another's company; we went for walks by the Nile, and in the 
evenings I sat at my typewriter, expecting her to listen appreciatively 
to the results of my labours and bolster up my so easily sagging spirits, 
which she valiantly did. Occasionally, we strolled into the centre of the 
town where there was a rickety hotel and a Greek grocer with extra- 
ordinary protuberances on his head. The only dissipation offered was 
to sit at a caf£ table and drink a cup of sweet Turkish coffee. From the 
window of our flat we looked across the Nile, with the desert always in 
view; the river running like a silver vein through strips of brilliant green 
vegetation, and, parallel with it, a road, a railway, and a canal. Whenever 
I see an Egyptian head or stone figure, I think of these parallel lines and 
the built-in symmetry of so narrow a land. After two terms in Minia, I 
was summoned to Cairo to join the staff of the university there. 

In Cairo we lived in a little house on the edge of the desert in Helmia 
Zeytoun. For my walks I strode over the desert, where the sand was 
hard; sometimes in the scorching sun, sometimes, when the harnzin 
wind was blowing, breathing in dust which gritted one’s nose and throat; 
best of all, in the evening when the sun went down, leaving the empty 
sky bloodshot, and dripping lurid colours on to the yellow sand. 
Wherever I have been - in town or country, desert or jungle, in rain or 
snow or ice or tropical heat, up mountains or by the sea-shore or along 
urban streets - 1 have always walked; not caring particularly about the 
surroundings or the conditions, often scarcely noticing them, so that for 
all I knew I might be in Thornton Heath or the Himalayas or Park 
Avenue or the Alpes Maritimes. Just pounding along, from nowhere to 
nowhere; sometimes with thoughts likewise pounding through my mind, 
sometimes not. Sometimes just vacant; unthinking, unseeing, unfeeling. 
In motion merely. 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 1 53 

The university at this time was in the Zaffaran Palace; a building 
formerly used by the Khedive for the accommodation of his harem. In 
the classrooms and along the corridors there were still odd traces of the 
previous usage. Little frivolous twists and turns in the masonry and 
woodwork, fragments of marble frescoes; up in the ceilings, coloured 
designs and figures, now faded, and in the neglected garden a rusty 
disused fountain in the middle of what had once been obviously an 
ornamental pool. It added an extra dimension of fantasy to our dis- 
quisitions on Antony and Cleopatra , chosen for its topicality. Later, the 
university moved to new premises in Giza. The students all wore 
tarbooshes and suits with narrow trousers bunched up round shoes with 
narrow pointed toes. They seemed to be faraway, lost in some distant 
dream of erotic bliss; a consequence, no doubt, in the case of many of 
them of their addiction to hashish, widespread among the effendi class, 
and prevalent among the fellahin, especially the ones who had moved 
into the towns. The deleterious effects of this addiction were, in those 
days, universally taken for granted; and the Egyptian authorities, 
following a plan of modernisation and national revival on the general 
lines of Kemal Ataturk’s in Turkey, spent a lot of money and effort in 
an attempt to stamp it out. Russell Pasha, the head policeman and the 
last Englishman to hold the post, was particularly active in trying to 
prevent hashish getting into the country, and in reducing indulgence in 
it. At the League of Nations, too, the suppression of the traffic in 
hashish was one of the few things the member states unanimously 
agreed about. If anyone then had suggested that all this endeavour was 
misplaced because hashish did little harm, and was anyway non-addictive, 
the suggestion would have been received with incredulity and derision. 
To the best of my knowledge no one at all reputable, or for that matter 
disreputable, ever did make such a suggestion. I had to wait forty years 
to hear it made, and then not just by crackpots and wild libertarians; 
but by respected citizens, clergymen, purported scientific investigators, 
and other ostensibly informed and enlightened persons. When I hear or 
read their apologies for hashish, I recall the Zaffaran Palace and the 
stupefied faces and inert minds of so many of the students there; the 
dreadful instances of the destructive effects of this drug on bodies and 
minds which any resident in the Middle East was bound to encounter. I 
know of no better exemplification of the death wish at the heart of our 
way of life than this determination to bring about the legalisation of 
hashish so that it may ravage the West as it has the Middle and Far East. 

As at Alwaye, my duties were not arduous; the students anyway were 



154 The Green Stick 

frequently on strike, and did not even, like the Indian students, take 
their examinations seriously, let alone their studies. They were expected 
to be able to follow lectures in French as well as English, and, of course, 
in Arabic. My impression is that, hashish apart, only very few of them 
had the faintest notion of what we lecturers were talking about. The head 
of our department, successor to Robert Graves, was Bonamy Dobr^e, a 
fidgety, eager man with a beard (not then as popular as now among 
literati) who had been a regular army officer before he became an 
academic. Major professor or professor major. We became and re- 
mained friends, though there has always been a certain basic dissidence 
between us, due partly at any rate to his attitude to literature - Blooms- 
buryite, topped up with D. H. Lawrence, with just a dash of Marx and 
a good slice of Pound and Social Credit. He spoke always of T. S. Eliot 
as Tom, and E. M. Forster as Morgan, and on his passport described 
himself as ‘man of letters’. He is another figure I have found myself 
unkindly introducing in fictional guise; in Dobr^e’s case, a high-pitched 
voice echoing along an empty street declaiming some lines from ‘Lycidas’, 
and then breaking off to proclaim his belief in life and in living. 

It was from Dobrde that I first heard of ‘The Waste Land*, of which 
we were all going to hear and say a great deal more before we were 
finished. This was at a public lecture he gave; one of those occasions at 
which a few people manage to seem a lot, like a levee or reception on a 
small repertory stage or in a television play. Some elegant females, ex- 
pensively dressed, of indeterminate age and race, called Levantine in 
those days; an Egyptian or two who had been to Oxford and looked it, 
wearing club ties, tarboosh-less; some indeterminate clergy, an Arch- 
deacon of Port Said, a Canon of Wadi-Halfa; a bank manager, an officer 
from the garrison who read the New Statesman , an American missionary 
in alpaca, and a sulky-looking third secretary from the British High 
Commission, present under compulsion; a sprinkling of elderly, wispy 
ladies who might once have been governesses, or companions, liable to 
emerge mysteriously in Cairo, as in other out-of-the-way places, for 
anything free and respectable and English like a lecture. 

Dobree was introduced by a French colleague, head of the Arts 
Faculty, also bearded, though with a thick, black tangle contrasting 
with Dobrie’s tapering ginger, which he undoubtedly considered to be 
Elizabethan in the style of Sir Philip Sidney or even Drake. The French, 
in making cultural propaganda, always take the ball into the other court, 
going on about votre paysage ravissant , v os mosques si mbnorables , vos 
contributions importantes aux lettres contemporaines. . . We play it 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 155 

straight; in this case, a discourse on the Metaphysical Poets. It was in 
the course of delivering this discourse that Dobrde looked up, paused, 
and then said with great deliberation, if not defiance, that he would stake 
his literary reputation that the publication of Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ 
would be considered as being on a par with that of the Lyrical Ballads , 
We, the audience, felt that some response was due, but we scarcely knew 
what. Should there be cheers and some cries of dissent? Should someone 
get up and stump out in disgust? Someone else, stand up on his chair 
and applaud? It seemed unkind, even philistine, to let so dramatic a 
challenge pass seemingly unnoticed. We shifted in our places; one or two 
of us half smiled, others vaguely frowned or shook their heads. Cer- 
tainly Dobr^e was in on a good investment, if only a short-term one. On 
a longer term, who can tell? In the thirties and the war years, I occasion- 
ally ran into Eliot at the Garrick Club; he was extremely amiable and 
polite, but, as it seemed to me, a man who was somehow blighted, dead, 
extinct. I wrote of him once that he was a death-rattle in the throat of a 
dying civilisation, for which a contributor to The Times Literary 
Supplement took me severely to task. Yet that was how I saw him- 
actually, several cadavers fitting into one another, like Russian dolls. A 
New England one, an Old England one, a Western Values one. And so 
on. 

We often used to go swaying and clanking into Cairo from Heliopolis 
on the Belgian-constructed tramway which vaguely recalled Knocke, 
Heyst and Blankenburg. On days when riots threatened, there would be 
more hats than tarbooshes. Foreigners were known as hozvagas , or hat- 
wearers; and as they still had their own Mixed Courts, and were not 
subject to the Egyptian courts, it was dangerous to involve them in 
public disorder. Thus, a hat provided a certain immunity. Cairo gave an 
impression of being inflammatory. In the dry burning heat, after weeks 
and weeks without rain, one expected the place to catch fire; as, indeed, 
it did some years after I left, with most of the places I knew, like 
Shepheard’s Hotel, burnt to the ground, though, alas, ‘The Awakening 
of Egypt’, a massive monument standing outside the railway station, 
remained intact. I expect it is indestructible. For the time being, how- 
ever, British troops were still stationed in Cairo and Alexandria; King 
Fuad was on the throne, and Lord Lloyd, the High Commissioner, 
was the effective boss, and behaved as such. I saw him once or twice 
driving about in a large car flying a large Union Jack, with motor-cycle 
outriders; a short, pale, nervously energetic man whom I afterwards got 
to know, when he was head of the newly constituted British Council. He 



156 The Green Stick 

told me that in his High Commissioner days King Fuad used quite 
often, literally, to weep on his shoulder. It conjured up a remarkable 
scene; that great swollen royal visage, with its thick, upturned moustache 
drawn to a point like the Kaiser’s, tearful, and drooping on to Lloyd’s 
little imperial shoulder; great sobs breaking from him, as well as a 
curious barking noise due to a hole in his gullet resulting from a shot 
fired at him by a jealous uncle. I was familiar with this barking noise, 
having heard it at a reception at the Royal Palace to which all professors 
and lecturers at the university were invited. It was so weird that a court 
chamberlain warned us in advance not to be surprised or disturbed if 
the King seemed suddenly to start barking. Even so, it came as a shock. 
At such receptions the regulation attire was a frock coat and tarboosh; 
most of us had to be content with just the tarboosh, but Dobr£e, 
characteristically, had provided himself with an authentic frock coat 
with silk facings, and, with his tarboosh rakishly a little awry, looked 
every inch a Bey, if not a Pasha. 

A favourite haunt was Old Groppi, a garden cafe in a courtyard with 
trees growing in it, and tables set under their shade or under coloured 
umbrellas. There, all day long sat the Pashas and Beys and Effendis 
consuming their tiny cups of sweet Turkish coffee, and keeping the flies 
at bay with their whisks; occasionally rising to greet one another with 
many courteous bows and gestures, but mostly, like my students, 
seemingly sunk in a long brooding reverie. Such a variety of faces, from 
dark Nubian to pale Greek, with many curious blends; as, ginger hair 
crowning a Bedouin head, or Negroid features contained in a pink skin. 
One or two, in majestic immobility, sucking at a hubble-bubble pipe; 
others scanning newspapers - the Bourse Egyptienne , Al Ahram } the 
Egyptian Gazette ; none, as far as could be seen, engaged in any business 
or occupation, with appointments to keep or duties requiring their 
attention. Their inertia gradually became infectious, and one would like- 
wise sit on and on, as the sun moved across the courtyard, with only the 
snores of a sleeping Pasha, the rhythmic gurgle of a hubble-bubble, the 
incursion of a newsboy, to disturb the scene’s somnolence. 

Once or twice a week I visited the residence of a rich Egyptian to give 
him lessons in English. It was well paid work, bequeathed to me by a 
colleague when he left Cairo. My pupil was, I should say, in his forties; 
rather darker than average in complexion, and usually, when I arrived 
in the mid-afternoon, and he opened the door to me, unshaved and in 
his pyjamas, though nonetheless, wearing a tarboosh, which gave an 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 157 

extra touch of grotesqueness to his appearance. The house, a detached 
villa in its own grounds, had all its curtains drawn. Within, it was dark 
and rather stale smelling. There were no signs that I could discern of any 
other occupant, though occasionally I thought I heard footsteps, and 
when tea was served some hand must have prepared it and set it out on 
a tray, ready to be brought in. My pupil would lead me into the large 
sitting-room whose furniture, except for a sofa and two arm-chairs on 
which we sat, was permanently covered with dust-sheets. A large glass 
chandelier hung over us, and on the walls facing us were some hunting 
prints bought, I was proudly informed, at Sotheby’s. I addressed my 
pupil in English, speaking very slowly and clearly - Tt is a warm day, 
but here in your house I feel delightfully cool* - but it was obvious that 
the poor fellow had been unable to follow. His dark liquid eyes were 
full of sorrow, his unshaved chin moved convulsively. Perhaps, I 
managed to get across to him, it might be better if we read together. He 
agreed, and went to fetch a book. I was full of curiosity about what it 
would prove to be; maybe the Kama Sutra , or The Arabian Nights. He 
came back with Lord Beaverbrook’s Success in his hand, in one of those 
cheap editions newspapers used to give away to boost circulation. It 
was, I understood, a book he particularly appreciated and admired; he 
passed it to me reverently, as he might a rare masterpiece. So for the rest 
of my afternoon sessions we worked through this turgid volume, with 
which I became abysmally familiar. He paid me the fee for each lesson 
as I left, in cash, which I thankfully pocketed. Of all the numerous and 
varied ways I have earned money in the course of my life, this seems to 
me to have been about the most bizarre. 

It was at this time that Kitty first became pregnant. I found the whole 
process utterly wonderful; her stomach gradually swelling up, and the 
thought that out of our fleshly gyrations, beautiful and hilarious and 
grotesque all in one, should come this ripening fruit, this new life par- 
taking of us both, and breaking out of its cocoon - her womb - to exist 
separately in the world. I had seen death, now I was to see birth. A 
white stomach rounding out, and inside it something growing, moving, 
living. It gave a point to every touch and caress and heave and groan; 
like print in a foreign language, laboriously spelt over, until suddenly it 
says something, and one understands. How beautiful are the Magnifi- 
cats, the songs of birth! How desolate and ultimately disastrous and 
destructive is the pursuit of Eros for its own sakel The sterile orgasm; 
the bow passed across the strings and no music coming, the paddle 
dipped in the water and no movement following. 



158 The Green Stick 

We spent our summer holiday in Austria by the Danube, at a place 
called Melk. Kitty’s pregnancy progressed, and I wrote a play, Three 
Flats. A lot of our time was passed in the grounds of a monastery where 
there were portraits of all the Austrian Emperors up to Franz Josef, 
whose divided beard was as familiar to me as the German Kaiser’s up- 
turned moustache. The river was full of bronzed Germans who went 
gliding by in their canoes, noisily singing, and somehow, despite their 
seeming joviality, menacing. Too well fed, too hale and hearty, too bois- 
terous for comfort. Back in Cairo we waited for the birth, which at last 
showed signs of beginning. I took Kitty into a German Deaconess’s 
Hospital, and left her there; more aware of her presence when I had left 
her than when we were still together. Seeing her face on the pillow; as it 
were, saying it over, as I might some lines of verse committed to 
memory. The next morning I went back to the hospital, driving myself 
there in an ancient Chevrolet we had acquired; seated high up, and 
looking out, terrified, at the swirling traffic. At the hospital, the matron 
told me in her broken English, grinning, almost leering, that the labour 
had begun. So I waited, counting the passing minutes, until a nurse 
came to take me to Kitty and my son, already, as I thought, wearing the 
expression of cool, ironic detachment combined with infinite sweetness, 
which characterises him to this day. 

Shortly afterwards Mrs Dobbs arrived to visit us. I met her at Cairo 
station. The arrival of the boat train from Alexandria in those days was 
quite an event; uniformed men with the names of hotels on their hats - 
Shepheard’s, Mena House, Semiramis- stood at the barrier to coax any 
clients they could into their buses. When Mrs Dobbs, dressed, as ever, 
in collar and tie, hat perched well forward on her head, long billowing 
skirt and boots, appeared at the barrier, not one of them made any move 
to procure her custom. Only an Egyptian in a dirty galabieh whispered 
in her ear: ‘YWCA! YWCA!* She, in any case, was too earnestly in 
conversation with two other Egyptians she had got to know in her 
third-class carriage to pay any attention. ‘Ahl* she said when she saw me, 
‘here I am!’ and proceeded to introduce me to her two friends, to whom, 
I gathered, throughout the journey from Alexandria she had been giving 
particulars of her sisters Beatrice Webb and Lady Courtney. I took her 
bag - she never used a porter if it could possibly be avoided - and we 
climbed into the Chevrolet. Seated side by side on our two high perches, 
and picking our way through the tumultuous traffic, she at once plunged 
into a conversation about the pyramids, and whether it was possible, as 
her psychic sister Teresa (Stafford Cripps’s mother) had believed, that 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 159 

they contained information about the Lost Tribes of Israel* It was with 
reluctance that, when she saw Kitty and our son (whom we called 
Leonard after Kitty’s brother), she switched from this subject on to more 
immediate personal matters. 

During the days she was with us, she went off each morning with her 
sketching things into the desert, and sketched away through the heat of 
the day, returning only after sunset. She took provisions, and the 
inevitable Thermos with her; occasionally, she told us, one or other of 
the Egyptians who gathered round to watch her would make an offer for 
the sketch she was working on - forty or fifty piasters, which she of 
course accepted. Once, when she was alone, some hooligans forced her 
to give them the two pounds she had in her purse. About this she 
complained to the police, making it clear, however, that though she was 
prepared to try to identify the youths in question, she would only do 
so if she were given an undertaking that as long as they returned her two 
pounds they would not be punished. A parade of local bad characters 
was in due course arranged, which I attended with her; as they filed past, 
she would murmur from time to time as one of the more villainous faces 
came into view: T think it’s him, but I’m not going to say so.* The result 
was indecisive. When the time came for her to depart for Upper Egypt, 
I took her to the station, where she was seized with a sudden panic as to 
whether she had her purse, which she kept in a body-belt round her 
waist. Checking involved largely undressing, which created some 
interest among passers-by. All was fortunately well, and she calmed 
down. As her train steamed out, I waved good-bye, with a sense of great 
relief, and also with a pang of regret. One always so wanted her to go, 
and then, when she had actually gone, missed that vivid crazy presence, 
that corncraking voice, those random, inconsequential, maddening 
remarks of hers. 

The men in suits and tarbooshes, the Pashas and Beys and Effendis, 
whether somnolent in the cates or garrulous along the streets, fly-whisks 
in hand, swallowing their interminable tiny cups of coffee, having their 
shoes shined, or their hair cut, being shaved or manicured, consuming 
enormous meals which left their breath onion-laden; then, replete, 
sucking sugar-cane, sometimes, as I have seen them, after a feast 
swarming into a nearby field, like stampeding cattle, grabbing canes, and 
there and then sucking at them - these constituted the new effective 
ruling class, able to bring the fellahin into the polling-booths to vote for 
this or that Pasha on behalf of the Wafd, the organ of Egyptian nation- 
alism as the Congress had been of Indian nationalism. My Alwaye 



160 The Green Stick 

sermon needed to be brushed up again; here was another people rightly 
struggling to be free; more work for a Byron, a Garibaldi of our time. 
Never in human history, it is safe to assert, have there been so many 
actual and potential liberators as in the last half century, and so little 
liberation; so many and so loud shouts for freedom, and so much 
enslavement. 

I became absorbed in the Egyptian political scene. It would have been 
far more advantageous to study Arabic, or ancient monuments like the 
Ibn Tulun Mosque with which Cairo abounded, or the splendid 
Tutankamen remains in the Cairo Museum. Alas, I did none of this, but 
spent my time arguing about the Wafd and its then leader, Nahas Pasha, 
a curious, distracted, almost Ramsay MacDonald-like figure; successor 
to Zaglul, considered to be the founder of modern Egyptian nationalism. 
My indoctrination at the Saturday evening gatherings in South Croydon 
came into its own; I found I had a lamentable facility for translating a 
particular political situation into a morality play or western, with an 
appropriate denouement in which the Good Guy - in the particular case 
in question, Nahas - triumphs, and the Bad Guy - obviously, Lord 
Lloyd and his Egyptian toadies, the lesser Pashas and Beys -is 
cast into outer darkness; with King Fuad as the saloon-keeper, who is 
not actually in the camp of the Bad Guy, but needs watching. Once this 
technique is mastered - and God knows, it’s easy enough - it is possible 
to be a successful and instant commentator in any medium, written, 
spoken, visual, on any situation in any part of the world. The style - 
studiously reasonable, and working up to occasional outbursts of 
idealistic fervour and satirical spleen -comes almost of itself. Thus: 
‘A certain amount of street turbulence, in any case greatly exaggerated 
in some of the reports, should not blind us to the vitality and vision of 
Egyptian nationalism, or induce us to think yet again in terms of 
conqueror and conquered, with the inevitable consequence of struggling 
on for a few more years towards predictable disaster. The awakening of 
formerly subject peoples like the Egyptians is an essential fact of the 
twentieth century. . .* One could easily have produced a prototype for 
this kind of composition, leaving blank spaces for the name of the 
country, capital city and local personalities, useable at any time anywhere. 

I sent off an offering in such a vein to the Manchester Guardian . It 
flew into the window of the Cross Street office like a homing pigeon, and 
duly appeared in the paper; attributed to ‘A correspondent in Cairo*, the 
lowliest of all appellations. I got a letter from the editor, which greatly 
delighted and excited me, asking for more material along the same lines. 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 161 

This I gladly provided, and had the additional satisfaction of seeing 
myself quoted in the Cairo press. Then, to complete my happiness, I 
received an intimation that Arthur Ransome was coming to Cairo as The 
Guardian's special correspondent, and would be coming to see me. 

Ransome, when he turned up, proved to be an amiable and attractive 
man, with a luxuriant blond soup-strainer moustache, a rubicund com- 
plexion, a large mouth from which more often than not a pipe pro- 
truded, and a hearty disposition. He was carelessly dressed in un- 
seasonable tweeds, and wore a large, loosely tied coloured tie of the kind 
favoured in those days by middle-brow aesthetes of the C. E. Montague- 
J. C. Squire variety. As I came to realise subsequently, he was in a sense 
the epitome of all Manchester Guardian writers; amateurish, literary, 
opinionated, conceited, eccentric; immediately recognisable in any 
gathering of journalists, however large, by virtue of a certain self- 
righteousness of expression and bearing; the firm mouth and chin saying 
that news is sacred, the bright left eye, that comment is free. His great 
glamour in my eyes was that he had witnessed the Russian Revolution, 
and known and talked with Lenin, Trotsky, and the other leaders in the 
flesh. It all made him, to me, more remarkable than if he had actually 
been present at the Crucifixion, or accompanied Moses when he received 
the Ten Commandments carved on stone at God’s hands. When he told 
me that he had actually played chess with Lenin, who proved to be 
rather a poor player, and with Litvinov, a much better one, I inwardly 
genuflected. I questioned Ransome eagerly and endlessly about his time 
in Russia. He went there originally to collect fairy stories; and, as I had 
occasion to reflect later, in addition to the traditional ones, managed to 
collect some of quite outstanding impact about the Revolution itself, 
though, ironically enough, these, like John Reed’s in Ten Days that 
Shook the World , were put on the Kremlin Index in due course because 
they failed to make adequate mention of Stalin. 

With such enthralling conversational material available, it was a 
wrench to switch to the matter at issue - the Pashas and their prospects. 
Truth to tell, neither Ransome nor I took them too seriously; with all our 
progressive pretensions, we had a somewhat lordly attitude to Egyptian 
politics and politicians, dwelling rather on their comic opera aspects. 
There would always, we felt, be a Pasha to form yet another government. 
Ransome described to me his encounters with them at the Mahomet Ali 
Club, where they foregathered in the evening, as well as conversations he 
had with Egyptian and British officials. As he talked, I could see the 
script being shaped for yet another version of the great morality play, 

C.W.T.— L 



1 62 The Green Stick 

in which virtue would once more be vindicated in the overthrow of 
Imperialism; heroes and villains given their parts and speaking their 
lines. The obtuseness of British official attitudes, the brutality of British 
troops in action; the reasonableness of Egyptian demands, and the 
advantage the extremists would derive from a stubborn refusal to meet 
them - it all fitted into place like a Willow Pattern. The Master Myth of 
our time. 

My aptitude in this field was so marked that Ransome recommended 
me to the Guardian as a promising recruit, and in due course I received 
a letter from E. T. Scott suggesting that I might like to join the editorial 
staff for a probationary period of three months. I believe I have never 
received a letter which gave me so much delight; waving it triumphantly 
in the air, I rushed to tell Kitty, and then to the post office to telegraph 
my acceptance of the offer. Whatever feelings I may have had subse- 
quently about the high proportion of my time and energy given to 
journalism, I cannot claim that harsh necessity drove me into the trade. 
No one could have embarked upon it more hopefully or thankfully or 
joyously. Though, or perhaps because, I had never so much as seen a 
copy of The Guardian , I was confidently of the opinion that it was the 
most enlightened, disinterested and progressive newspaper in the world. 
To be offered a chance to join its staff and write in its columns, seemed 
to me the most marvellous thing that could possibly have happened. 

I owed this great opportunity to Ransome, and was duly grateful. He, 
as it turned out, went on only one more journalistic assignment - to 
China. Then he retired to a house in the Lake District with his agreeable 
Russian wife, Jenia, said to have at one time been on Trotsky’s staff. 
Kitty and I visited them there several times. We watched him make flies 
for his line, with his great solemn face bending earnestly over the coloured 
threads as he selected them and fastened them together; then, in his boat 
on Windermere, dropping the hook, dancing the fly, still with the same 
solemnity, and hushed silence - the beautiful solemnity of a child, though 
one with a large soup-strainer moustache sprouting out of a rubicund 
face. It was at this time that he wrote the first of his very successful 
children’s books, Swallows and Amazons ; a myth sans Commissars and 
sans Pashas; purer, sweeter, than the ones from Our Special Corres- 
pondent. Ransome never seemed to care much for children, which may 
well be a necessary qualification for writing successfully about and for 
them. Most adults like children because they are different from them; a 
child-like adult like Ransome dislikes them and is bored by them, pre- 
cisely because he is like them. For that very reason, he can understand 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 163 

their games and attitudes as an adult cannot, and so his writings interest 
them. A. A. Milne, not at all a child-like man, was just the opposite; he 
really liked children (as Lewis Carroll did), and so wrote about them as it 
were from without, as an adult. The result was that his Winnie the Pooh 
books enchanted adults, as realising their picture of children, but rarely 
pleased children themselves, though sometimes they pretended other- 
wise to ingratiate themselves with adults. I had a curious encounter with 
Milne soon after I became editor of Punch . The poor fellow was in a 
nursing home in Tunbridge Wells, recovering from the after-effects of 
a cerebral haemorrhage, and understandably in a far from amiable state 
of mind; especially as he had hated Punch for many years. My visit was 
rather like Sir Hugh Greene going to see Lord Reith. Or John F. Ken- 
nedy dropping in on Harry S. Truman. Christopher Robin seemed very 
far away. 

Kitty and our son went ahead, and I followed as soon as the term was 
over. It was the greatest possible relief to get away from Egypt. The 
place, to me, had an arid feel about it; I never put out any roots there, as 
I had in India, or made any close friends there, or had any sense of its 
past - of the great civilisations which had flourished in the Valley of the 
Nile. It was all just an excavation site as far as I was concerned; sand and 
shouts, and buildings that looked like one of those international ex- 
hibitions set up quickly to seem impressive for a little while, but soon 
growing shabby and derelict. Yellow sandstone turrets and domes and 
minarets standing amidst wide expanses of yellow sand. As for the so- 
called cosmopolitan society to which we always referred when we said 
how interesting living in Cairo or Alexandria was - 1 had never found 
them particularly alluring. The rich Syrians and Greeks and hybrid 
French who kissed hands and rolled their Rs as though they had never 
been off the Champs Elysdes; the expatriate English public school 
homosexuals, aspiring T. E. Lawrences, burnous-wearing, with dusky 
Arab servants - Said, Hassan - who, bringing in the drinks or serving a 
meal, had a sly air of intimacy, even a touch of hauteur and insolence 
about them. Then the anglicised locals, the Maxes and Camilles and 
Georges, who had their suits made in Savile Row, and bought their 
cigarette cases and lighters at Aspreys; whose tarbooshes sat on their 
heads like red rimless bowlers, and whose slang came out of early 
Wodehouse; whose nearly Parisian ladies in nearly Parisian gowns, 
olive-skinned exotic beauties, had been reared on convent culture, and 
given a final polish in finishing schools in Gstaad or by the Lake of 
Lucerne, before being posted to Cairo, Beirut and Alexandria. 



164 The Green Stick 

The only occasion that, for me, extricates itself from the general 
forgetfulness was giving a lecture on Swift in Alexandria, at Victoria 
College, alma mater of, among others, Rudolph Hess, and spending the 
evening afterwards with Kavafy, a local Greek poet about whom I had 
read in E. M. Forster’s Pharos and Pharillon. He was a curious 
little grey fragile man, who, besides being a poet, worked in an orange 
exporting business; a passionate lover of the English language, which he 
spoke fluently, having learnt it almost entirely from reading works like 
Milton’s Areopagitica , Johnson’s Rasselas and Macaulay’s Essays. The 
result was indescribably funny and touching; such splendidly rounded 
phrases and sonorous words coming from so seemingly alien and frail a 
figure, applied indiscriminately to any subject, weighty or frivolous, 
which might arise. 

Revisiting Cairo from time to time in the years that followed, the 
process of decay was evident enough. The exotic beauties had all dis- 
appeared into the pages of Lawrence Durrell’s novels; Max and Camille 
and Georges into the seamier haunts of Paris or London or Rome, 
whither their fat King Farouk, in due course, likewise decamped. Even 
‘The Awakening of Egypt* seemed sooty and slumbering; I had to hunt 
for Old Groppi, and when I found it wished I hadn’t, so shabby and 
woebegone had it become, with the few ex-Pashas and Beys still seated 
there beneath the trees, shadows of their former selves, too listless even 
to whisk away the flies or eye over the Bourse Egyptienne. New Groppi, 
or Groppi Rotunda, in Soleiman Pasha, turned into a cafeteria, and even 
Lappas Frires, our majestic grocery, through whose spicy twilight one 
could see looming up every sort of rare delicacy, as well as local cheeses 
and fruits and yoghurt at their pristine best - even Lappas had grown 
seedy and shabby and stale. Was it like this, I wondered, in Hippo in 
St Augustine’s time, when Rome was sacked, and the tide of civilisation 
which had washed through all the then known world, receded, leaving 
stagnation and decay behind? 

I took a deck passage from Alexandria to Venice on an Italian boat, 
munching my own provisions, washed down with chianti, and sleeping 
by night where I sat by day, my little luggage beside me, the bright stars 
above me, and the moonlight streaming down, suffusing the sea and the 
ship; as it seemed, the whole universe made luminous. We sailed up to 
the Grand Canal and into the heart of Venice at dawn. I can remember 
now my exhilaration at the beauty of it; the delicacy of the Campanile in 
that glowing rose-grey first light, and all the hopes I had. Though far 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 165 

more alluring than Venice, in my thoughts, was Manchester, city of 
print rather than of churches, where all my future hopes were focused. 

I arrived in Manchester on a Monday morning in August, 1932, and 
registered at the old Queen’s Hotel, subsequently demolished. My 
instructions were to report to the Guardian office in Cross Street in the 
afternoon, so I spent the intervening time wandering about the streets of 
Manchester, several times passing the Guardian office, and staring in at 
a photograph in the window of the Lord Mayor of Manchester and the 
Lady Mayoress in their chains of office at some function or other. Also 
at one of some bathers on an Australian beach, the bill for the day being 
-all too characteristically, as I was to learn -surf bathing in 
Australia. The slight tang of smoke in the air was something that 
would always recall for me this first arrival - apart from my glamorised 
childhood visit to our Sheffield relatives -in the industrial North. 
Having read about the severe economic depression which had hit, 
particularly, Lancashire, I somehow expected to see queues and pinched 
faces and a general air of desperation. Actually, the city, matching my 
mood, seemed bustling and cheerful. Public reports are always mis- 
leading, and have been made more so by the camera’s increasing part in 
them. Anyone who has had occasion, as I have, to participate in pre- 
paring compilation films about this period will know that the scanty 
available footage has to be arranged or doctored to produce the requisite 
effect. This will be easier for later periods; quasi-documentaries like 
Cathy Come Home realise the myth in terms of actuality, in the same way 
that, for instance, the assault on the Winter Palace in Petrograd, as 
presented in Eisenstein’s film, has now been firmly incorporated in the 
documentation of the Revolution. When all the recording, compiling 
and documenting has been completed, it will be for ever impossible to 
know what happened about anyone or anything; history, in dramatising 
its records, abolishes itself. 

Punctually at three o’clock, I presented myself at the Guardian's 
Cross Street office, but was told that this was for receiving advertise- 
ments, not for journalists. It was, indeed, more suggestive of a travel- 
agency than a newspaper. The journalistic staff used a sort of stage-door 
at the side, much dingier than the other. Upstairs, on the editorial floor 
to which I was directed, things seemed pretty quiet. I was shown into 
the library and told to wait there. It was a long twilit room with solid- 
looking tomes lining the walls — mostly, as I observed, volumes of 
Hansard - and a bust of C. P. Scott by Epstein standing on the table. 



1 66 The Green Stick 



Below me, I could feel, like a heart-beat, the steady throb of the presses 
turning out that day's Manchester Evening News ; in the yard at the back 
of the building I had noticed the pony traps all waiting, tensed up, ready 
to rush away with the edition when it was ready. At once, I began to 
catch the fever of journalism, which even now I have not quite succeeded 
in shaking off; the working up each single day to a moment of climax, 
the frenzied effort to finish a story, sometimes actually running with 
copy to the stone and just getting it in; then relaxing; for good or ill, 
nothing more to be done about that particular edition. I suppose every- 
one recognises when he first finds his way to his own particular milieu or 
scene. The jockey-to-be first sniffing acrid stable air, his legs almost 
bending outwards as he sniffs; the priest-to-be catching a whiff of 
incense, the flash of a vestment, the throaty intonation of an exhortation 
or prayer - Dearly beloved brethren, I pray and beseech you . . . the 
palms of his hands drawing together of themselves, his eyes uplifting; 
the young wanton-to-be giving a lift to her gym-frock, a touch of 
accentuation to her budding breasts which she instinctively recognises 
as the tools of- her trade. So, I recognised at once my native habitat in 
The Guardian office; in the tang of printer's ink, the yeasty aroma of 
newsprint; curious, aged figures carrying copy, or battered trays with 
dregs of strong tea and the debris of chops or fried fish; the clatter of 
teleprinters and typewriters, and the odd zones of silence somehow 
existing amidst the noise, like cloisters in a railway station. Paper every- 
where, underfoot, clutched, pored over, discarded, even in the lavatories, 
agency copy available, brooded upon before using - from Georgia news 
of a man of a hundred and forty who remembered Napoleon; from 
Montreal, of a woman who had given birth to quintuplets; from 
Chicago, of an explosion which had flooded the neighbouring streets 
with illicit liquor. Pulp to pulp - this was my line. 

Minutes dragged by slowly in the library. I fastened my gaze on 
Epstein’s Scott, noting how the bronze head seemed to be about to jump 
off its pedestal at me. At last I was summoned by one of the aged 
messengers to the presence of Ted Scott, the E.T. who had written to 
me, and C.P.'s son; by this time nominally his father's successor as 
editor. He turned out to be a man in his forties with a large noble head, 
a grey complexion, soft dark eyes and a smile of great sweetness; the 
whole impression somehow vaguely sorrowful. I liked him at once. He 
was sitting in a small office, like an anteroom, and after we had chatted 
together for a while he asked me what subjects I was interested in. 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 167 

Without thinking I said India, Egypt, the Labour Party - by this time 
my father was MP for Romford - and education. Then he got up to 
take me into the adjoining office where his father, the famous C. P. 
Scott, was sitting at his desk staring fixedly in front of him; his eyes 
bright blue, his flesh rosy, his beard white and truculent; a high-minded 
Sir John Falstaff, looking, as the old and famous often do, a little 
mad. 

The memory of him sitting there, as I had first seen him, vividly 
recurred to me when in 195° f spent some hours at Chartwell with 
Churchill; by this time well into his dotage, though with another 
government still to form. I happened to be briefly in the chair at the 
Daily Telegraph , then serialising his War Memoirs, and it was in con- 
nection with some dispute arising over his excessive proof corrections 
that he had required my presence. His physical condition was vastly 
inferior to Scott’s; flabby and puffy, and, in some indefinable way, 
vaguely obscene. Like an inebriated old sea lion, barking and thrashing 
about in shallow water. He was wearing his famous siren suit, with a 
zip-fastener up the front; various of his collaborators were there, 
familiarly sycophantic, as is the way with such people, especially the 
service ones. At four o’clock, in lieu of tea, a tray of highballs was brought 
in, and as others followed my senses began to swim. I cannot recall that 
the subject of the proof corrections was ever broached, except perhaps 
very casually. At one point Churchill took me out into the garden and 
showed me his goldfish and water works, and some not very dis- 
tinguished paintings connected with Marlborough, that his nephew 
John Churchill had done on the walls of a little pavilion. Inside the 
house, he drew my attention to a handbill offering a reward for his 
capture in the Boer War. All, as I realised, a standard routine and patter; 
a conducted tour often provided to all sorts and conditions of visitors - 
for instance, Molotov, who must surely have been taken over the course, 
and whose wooden attention I could easily imagine. 

Seated again, I raised the question of Yalta; the only incident in the 
late war about which I had any particular curiosity or concern. It 
produced a great splutter of talk about how, if he were to say what he 
knew, it would ‘bring the United States Government down’; at that 
time, President Truman’s second administration. I particularly remem- 
ber the phrase about bringing the United States Government down 
because of its absurdity. Then he went on to tell me about how he had 
been invited to speak at a great meeting in Cologne, when he would be 
bound to be given the greatest reception of his life. Striding up and 



1 68 The Green Stick 

down and gesticulating, he proceeded to deliver the speech he proposed 
to make; all about the valiant fighting qualities of the Germans, the 
disastrous consequences of our two wars against them, and how our two 
nations must henceforth walk together; their combined strength a great 
stabilising factor in the world. I reflected afterwards how the only thing 
our politicians learnt in the two world wars was to admire the Germans. 
It was a really ludicrous and embarrassing performance on Churchiirs 
part, even as grasped through my highball stupor. He was at that time, I 
suppose, the most famous and admired man in the world. Yet I had seen 
him delivering himself of a rhetorical rodomontade such as one might 
expect to hear from some retired colonel at an Old Comrades Association 
dinner. Whether the proposed Cologne speech was ever actually de- 
livered, I have no idea. I should suppose not. 

Only later, going over in my mind this brief encounter with Churchill, 
did the comparison with C. P. Scott suggest itself. It was intrinsically 
implausible of course -the puffy, loose, self-indulgent, baby-smooth 
face of the one, and the taut, well-groomed and brushed appearance of 
the other. In Scott’s case, the intent purposive look, the expensive tweed 
suit, the large loose tie, not, as might be expected, with a ring over it; 
the everlasting expectation that somehow Whitehall leads to Damascus. 
In ChurchiH’s, a certain slackness, not exactly easy-goingness, nor even 
good-nature (in fact, as far as that’s concerned, the reverse - something 
malign and disagreeable, as it seemed to me, behind the image-mask of 
high living, low thinking and general amiability). Ribaldry is perhaps the 
word; a Lear who has changed places with his Fool, but kept his blank 
verse. What, then, did they have in common that made my mind go back 
to that other occasion, two decades before? I suppose, that they had the 
same addiction to power which stamps itself unmistakably on all who 
succumb, whether they get the stuff in courts, or parliaments, or board 
rooms, or at mighty demos; whether in the Kremlin’s obscure recesses, 
or exposed to millions of eyes in a television studio, or at the high altar at 
St Peter’s. In the same sort of way promiscuity gives a greedy, hungry, 
coarse look at the comers of the mouth, equally in a duchess and a 
whore. They had different parts, of course; Churchill a poor man’s 
Chatham, Scott a rich man’s Good Samaritan; the one decked out in 
funny hats and uniforms, the other in sartorial righteousness; one hairless 
and the other bearded, one ebullient and the other dry, one a man of 
fraudulent rhetoric, the other of equally fraudulent principle. On 
different paths, but going in the same direction and making for the same 
destination. 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 169 

Scott was very affable to me, and I tried to dazzle him with my know- 
ledge of Indian and Egyptian politics and politicians, none of whom I 
had even seen, let alone met. (When, subsequently, I did see and meet 
them, I did not find that I gained much thereby in knowledge or in 
wisdom compared with when I only pretended to have seen and met 
them.) It was difficult to decide whether Scott was listening or not; he 
had the faraway air of someone preoccupied with another scene and 
other words than the ones being spoken. His memory by this time was 
very sketchy, but it required exceptional courage to risk correcting it 
when it seemed to have led him astray. I remember how, on one 
occasion, he put in the paper the obituary of someone who was still 
alive; only at the very last moment before the edition went to press did 
anyone - actually, the news-editor - manage to summon up courage to 
tell him. When Ted and I withdrew he was still seated at his empty desk 
staring in front of him. Presumably, as the evening wore on, proofs were 
brought in, there were telephone calls - though there was no telephone 
on his desk -to take, before he finally made off, riding his bicycle 
deliberately and sedately along the dark Manchester streets, out to 
Fallowfield where he lived. A majestic figure in his way; worried, maybe, 
about Bulgaria, whether the British Embassy should be transferred from 
Peking to Nanking, Lloyd George’s perfidy, Asquith’s somnolence, 
Ramsay MacDonald’s confusion. So many worries, turning the pedals - 
01 troubled world. Pedalling along Oxford Street, into Victoria Park, 
then turning into his front garden; the dark silent house, a light in his 
study, soon the first edition specially delivered. One more to eye over 
anxiously. Whither Bulgaria? Nanking be of good cheer, their Excel- 
lencies are comingl Steady Lloyd George! Wake up, Asquithl Ramsay, 
time is running out! And so to bed. 

I was allotted the task of doing a short leader on corporal punishment. 
Ted handed me the relevant copy with diffidence. Not much of a sub- 
ject, he seemed to say, but nothing else available. Blotched teleprinted 
words, from the Press Association, about a headmasters’ conference at 
which some worthy or other had pronounced himself against this 
barbarous custom, damaging alike to chastiser and chastised, etc., etc. I 
returned with the copy to the library, where, pending a perch of my 
own becoming available, I was to work. Anxiously, I added up the 
wordage of a shoit leader in that day’s paper; it worked out at between 
a hundred and a hundred and fifty words. I had three hours to produce 
my piece. It seemed quite long, but how to begin? Were we for corporal 
punishment or against it? I supposed the latter, but sought confirmation. 



170 The Green Stick 

It would not do, I decided, to ask Ted, since this would suggest to him 
that I was someone without principles, and also ignorant of the, no 
doubt, firm line already taken by The Guardian on the subject. So I 
ventured out of the library and into the corridor outside, this being, as I 
afterwards discovered, the seat of the editorial department, each door 
in it opening into a small room where a leader-writer was sitting like a 
broiler bird ready to lay an egg. Opening one of the doors at random, I 
saw a figure bent over a typewriter who turned out to be Paddy Monk- 
house; a youngish man with already greying hair and a large kindly 
mouth; the son of A. N. Monkhouse, the literary editor. I grew to love 
him dearly when I got to know him. After a brief and unsatisfactory 
foray into Fleet Street on the Evening Standard (I was also on it at the 
time), he returned to The Guardian , where, as it seemed to me, the life 
was slowly and systematically drained out of him. This Liberal Moloch 
ate its children. 

With great diffidence I announced myself to Paddy as a newcomer, 
and asked him if he would kindly tell me what was the paper’s line on 
corporal punishment, as I had to write a leader on the subject. Without 
looking up, or stopping his typing, he muttered: ‘The same as capital, 
only more so.’ This had to suffice by way of a directive. I returned to the 
library and began my labours. Did I write or type? I cannot now 
remember. I fancy I must have taken a typewriter along; my handwriting 
has always been hopelessly illegible, I think because I can never bring 
myself to finish words of more than one syllable - least of all my own 
inordinately long name. With a shorter name I might have written more 
legibly. 

So I began, and the words seemed to come of themselves; like lying 
as a child, or as a faithless lover; words pouring out of one in a circum- 
stantially false explanation of some suspicious circumstance. The more 
glib, the greater the guilt. First the originating observation-^ Mr 
so-and-so, headmaster of such-and-such a school, justly observed at the 
Headmaster's Conference meeting yesterday. . . . Then the qualifying 
counter-observation - Some of his colleagues took him to task . . . (‘Taking 
to task’ is better editorialese than ‘criticised’ or ‘attacked’, as it is better 
to say that Mr So-and-so’s withers remain unwrung than that he is un- 
repentant.) Followed by a touch of facetiousness; out with the Oxford 
Dictionary of Quotations] - That eminent pedagogue, Mr Wackford 
Squeers of Dotheboys Hall, might not agree . . . Preparing the way for the 
ascent to total seriousness -It is surely high time that this reprehensible 
practice were discontinued - and working up to the moral point on which 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 171 

every leader must hinge - inflicting f as it does , quite apart from any purely 
physical pain or discomfiture y serious psychological damage on punisher and 
punished alike . • . Finally, a note of hope, on which all good leaders 
must go out - While not for one moment suggesting that punishment , as 
suchy can be wholly dispensed with , it is greatly to be hoped that the use of 
the cane will be , if not abolished altogether , then reserved for only the most 
drastic occasions . , . In editorialese time is always high and punishment 
as such. 

It is painful to me now to reflect the ease with which I got into the 
way of using this non-language; these drooling non-sentences conveying 
non-thoughts, propounding non-fears and offering non-hopes. Words 
are as beautiful as love, and as easily betrayed. I am more penitent for my 
false words - for the most part, mercifully lost for ever in the Media’s 
great slag-heaps - than for false deeds. Discussing once with Kingsmill 
this obliteration of language, we decided that there was no need for 
politicians to finish their sentences, the end being implicit in the 
beginning. Thus, taking the case of the then looming opening of the 
United Nations, the following all-purpose cues would serve for any 
orator: 

On this historic occasion when . . . 

There can be no one here present who . . . 

We have just passed through an ordeal that • . . 

No thinking man will underestimate the . . „ 

While there are many circumstances which ♦ . . 

There are solid grounds for hoping that . , . 

It is surely incumbent upon all of us to . . . 

While recognising the reality of . . . 

No mere conflict of interest should . . . 

The immeasurable strides that Science has . , , 

Such is the choice that at present confronts „ . . 

It is idle to think that politicians can . . . 

It rests with the common people to . . . 

With head erect and clear purpose we . . . 

For the time being, however, I was well satisfied with my first offering 
to The Guardian as I laid it on Ted Scott’s desk, and returned to the 
library to await the outcome. Paddy Monkhouse looked in to see how I 
was getting on with corporal - or was it capital? - punishment. His own 
piece (on, if I remember correctly, footpaths in the Peak District which 
were threatened with closure) - being likewise finished, we repaired to 
the Stock Bar, a conveniently situated underground bar which the 



172 The Green Stick 

editorial staff frequented. Standing there already were A. P. Wadsworth, 
a quick, eager, squeaky little man, then industrial correspondent and 
afterwards editor, and Kingsley Martin, who had heard of me through 
the Webbs. I have always thought of Kingsley as the prototype of all 
Leftists; Mr Lefty of our time. At this, my first encounter with him, I 
formed an impression which was scarcely modified in the succeeding 
years. Even his appearance changed little - the tousled hair greying but 
never thinning, the great beak of a nose like a shadow over the face, the 
sallow complexion which Mrs Webb, wrongly, took to be a sign of 
grubbiness (the grubbiness, if it existed at all, was inward). He gave an 
impression, not exactly of being shifty; rather, of constant mental 
pullalation. Like a marsh, bubbling and oozing and glistening; his very 
speech somehow tortured, words breaking and bubbling out of his 
anguish. Bred in Nonconformity, his father being one of those ministers 
who, in the spirit of the age, moved on from Calvin to William Morris, 
and then to a sight of Keir Hardie, Kingsley continued the journey to 
Marx, with many a detour and backward leap; as he would hover round 
the stone in his New Statesman days to insert or delete a last-moment 
‘not*. Indecision the very heart and soul of him; ‘Shall we? Shan’t we?’ 
A man for all causes. He still had his father’s pulpit manner; unction of 
righteousness, and, in his political leaders, the flavour of extempore 
prayer - Lord, we do beg thee to raise the school age ... I remembered 
an old song I had heard; ‘I am myself my own fever and pain.’ Kingsley 
was himself our own fever and pain; he was crucified nightly (later, 
weekly) as the paper went to bed, and rose again from the dead when it 
was delivered with the milk. Every age has its own man; Medieval 
Man, Renaissance Man, Industrial Man, etc., etc. Ours was Kingsley - 
Socialist Man. At once our battle and our battlefield, our message and 
our medium. At the Stock Bar he was holding forth about regulations 
he had been endorsing for humane killing - of animals, as it happened. 
It might perfectly well have been men; he had a way of airily abolishing 
huge concourses of people, as when he considered in a leader whether 
or not Mao Tse-tung had been justified in liquidating some million 
recalcitrant Chinese. 

Back in the library, I found that the proof of my leader had been laid 
on the table. The first galley I had ever seen, with galleys to come that 
would make a paper-chase round the earth’s circumference. This the 
very first one, still damp, so that, when I tried inking in corrections, the 
ink spread in little rivulets. Yet somehow my morsel of newsprint with 
its ridiculous sentences and rivulets of ink seemed unearthly in its 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 173 

wonder. My words, printed! I could scarcely contain myself; I felt up- 
lifted, and walking back to the Queen’s Hotel through Manchester 
streets already emptying, I scarcely felt the pavement in the thought of 
all those Guardian readers, over the breakfast table, or swaying from side 
to side in crowded railway compartments, or dozing in their clubs, or 
strap-hanging in trams and buses, confronted with my broadside on 
corporal punishment. Stopped in their tracks, maybe; stunned, over- 
whelmed by the well-chosen, well-directed words, resolving that hence- 
forth the cane should be laid aside for ever. In the morning I lay in bed 
listening for the footsteps of the man taking round the papers; at last I 
heard him, rushed to the door, and there it was, the day’s Guardian , 
fresh and fragrant as a newly picked rose. On the leader-page, sure 
enough my piece. I read it over and over - headed: ‘Spare the Rod* - as 
though it had been some exquisite sonnet. It would be nice to feel now, 
and gratifying to say, that all the fatuous lucubrations of which this first 
one was the herald were so much waste product, preventing a more 
particular and lasting use of one’s own verbosity. In truth, I feel about 
them as Falstaff did about the riff-raff he recruited to fight in the king’s 
wars - mortal men! In my case, mortal words. 

When Kitty and our son came, we moved into Kingsley’s house in 
Didsbury while he was away. He had a special contract with the 
Guardian , much resented by Scott even though he made it, whereby he 
could be away from Manchester for three months in the year in order to 
refresh and re-fertilise his mind. Whether this purpose was in fact 
achieved, may be doubted; his mind always seemed to me like one of 
those small plots whole Indian families live off, which never lie fallow 
for a single instant - endlessly tramped over by buffaloes; ploughed and 
sown and harvested in endless succession. I stayed with him while 
awaiting Kitty’s coming. His then wife, Olga, a spare lady with a fringe 
and a sharp chin who was reputedly engaged in writing fantasies, called 
him ‘Kingly’. When we left for the office together, they would embrace 
warmly, she murmuring as she broke away: ‘Nuffs, Kingly; nuffs!* 
Physically, she was fashioned very much in the style of Katherine 
Mansfield, a then popular model in such circles; and no doubt the fan- 
tasies - though I never saw one - were likewise in the Katherine Mans- 
field manner. (Come to that, Kingsley bore a decided resemblance to 
Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield’s husband.) Warm sand trick- 
ling through bare cool toes; impulsive, elfin (that’s the word), floor- 
squatting, head on one side - Do I love you? What’s love? Voices crying 
in the wilderness to make straight the way for Virginia Woolf. To the 



174 Green Stick 

Lighthouse! Oh, to the Lighthouse! Long afterwards, abruptly, dpropos 
of nothing, Kingsley told me how Olga came to die. They had been 
separated for many years; Olga drifted in and out of mental homes, 
weaving her fantasies therapeutically. Leaving one such mental home, 
carrying her suitcase, she incautiously crossed the road, and was knocked 
down and killed. The suitcase gave me a pang; contents scattered about 
the tarmac - bits of clothing, books, scribbled sheets of fantasy. To the 
Mortuaryl Oh, to the Mortuary! 

Driving from Didsbury to Cross Street with Kingsley was a hazardous 
business; in a car so ancient that it had no mechanical wind-screen 
wiper, requiring the driver when it was raining (which it usually was) 
to move the wiper to and fro by hand, which Kingsley did vigorously, 
the other hand on the steering-wheel, and, at the same time, discoursing 
fluently on the world situation. Poincard, that implacable militarist, 
with the xenophobic French behind him, and only a few virtuous lone 
voices - Barbusse, Albert Thomas, Romain Rolland - protesting, the 
virtuous Germans, encircled by the Little Entente, malignantly kept on 
the edge of bankruptcy, wickedly and foolishly excluded from the 
comity (an editorial favourite) of nations. MacDonald’s fine speeches at 
Geneva, but would they butter parsnips (another editorial favourite)? 
Kingsley had it all worked out. Later, he would have occasion to shatter 
this pattern of events in favour of another. The French promoted in 
virtue, the Germans drastically demoted, with other consequent adjust- 
ments of smaller fry like the Poles and the Czechs. It was wonderful 
how quickly and wholeheartedly such re-arrangments could be managed. 
Like a man racing after a bus, falling, picking himself up and dusting 
himself down, and then catching another going in the opposite direction. 
At the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, for instance, when other enlightened 
voices grew hoarse, were muffled and even silenced, Kingsley soon got a 
second wind and was off again. Similarly when Khruschev delivered his 
anti-Stalin broadside at the twentieth Party Congress. It was not that he 
was unprincipled; rather the converse. He had a super-abundance of 
principles; enough and to spare for all possible eventualities. 

Though Kingsley was so completely tuned in to the spirit of The 
Guardian , more so than any of the rest of us, oddly enough he failed to 
please the Scotts, and was not a success on the paper. Quite soon after I 
joined, he left it to become editor of the New Statesman ; a position in 
which he throve mightily. I inherited his room along the Corridor; a 
small cubicle with windows looking on to nothing, and a coal fire which 
I tended to over-stoke, generating a fug, soon laden with tobacco smoke. 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 175 

Through this haze occasionally the figure of C.P. loomed up on one of 
his visitations. He appeared and disappeared unaccountably; the Corri- 
dor in any case was full of ghosts - for instance, a figure in a winged 
collar with a shining forehead, and occasionally glimpsed muttering, or 
passing silently by - and C.P. might well have been one of these. On one 
of his visitations he spoke to me about Kingsley, telling me how, almost 
from his very first appearance in Cross Street, he had found his physical 
presence distasteful; to the point that he could not bear any bodily 
contact with him, like shaking hands, or reading copy over his shoulder. 
Was this feeling, expressed so emphatically, perhaps a premonition 
of the moral squalor and confusion which the attitude of mind Kingsley 
so perfectly exemplified was bound to produce, and of which The 
Guardian would be a leading exponent, rather than a comment on his 
actual physical presence? Mrs Webb, in any case, reacted to him simi- 
larly, in her Journal; and so, as I had occasion to learn, did George 
Orwell. Once when I was lunching with him at a Greek restaurant in 
Percy Street he asked me to change places with him, which I cheerfully 
did. He explained that the reason for the change was that, from where 
he had been sitting, he looked straight at Kingsley lunching at an 
adjoining table; and the sight of so corrupt a face, he said, would spoil 
his luncheon. When I took his place I had to admit that I felt no par- 
ticular distress at having Kingsley in vision. Was this because I was part 
of the same corruption? Or just that over the years the stench of it had 
so got into my nostrils that I didn’t notice it any more. 

The body comes into our moral struggles more than is commonly 
recognised. There is nothing out-of-the-way in Jacob’s long wrestling 
match with his God, or in the bloody battle between Christian and 
Apollyon in The Pilgrim's Progress . Everyone with experience of mental 
derangement - and there are few to-day without it - will know that the 
sickness of the mind goes 'with a horrifying intensification of the body’s 
animality; a wild animal staring out of the eyes, or dim windows of the 
soul, as Blake calls them. Dreadful grunts replacing human speech, froth 
at the corners of the mouth, and the flesh exuding smells and rankness. 
My own most vivid experience of the bodily implications of mental strife 
came in a radio session I once had with Bertrand Russell. I had spoken 
in praise of Christianity, and he rounded on me with unexpected 
ferocity, shrilly insisting that everything most cruel and destructive and 
wicked which had happened in the world since the end of the Roman 
Empire had been due to the Christian religion and its founder. I 
shouted back; it was an absurd and unedifying scene which nonetheless 



176 The Green Stick 

left me physically exhausted, as though I had been engaged in a physical 
wrestling match. I remember still with a lively sense of horror how, as 
Russell's rage mounted, a flush rose up his thin white stringy neck, like 
a climbing thermometer, to suffuse his simian features, making of the 
great philosopher a flushed ape. 

C.P. himself, in any case, was physically very fastidious, well scrubbed 
and brushed and groomed. His thoughts and attitudes were similarly 
hygienic, though his ear was attuned to the first tiny rustlings of the 
permissive tornado to come, which was to sweep The Guardian so 
notably along with it. I wrote a long leader for him one hot summer’s 
day when there seemed no other subject, on the cult of sun-bathing, in 
which I quoted a line from D. H. Lawrence about the genitals of space. 
This he passed, though a cloud hung over our relations in the succeeding 
few days which suggested he may have been criticised for so doing. On 
one of his ghostly visitations we got on to the subject of a remark of 
Goethe’s to the effect that women wearing spectacles put a barrier 
between themselves and male approaches. Yes, he said, looking knowing, 
he had found it so. It reminded me of Dr Johnson saying that if ever he 
had a harem he would dress the ladies in linen rather than silk. On 
another occasion, in connection with some story about racial trouble in 
Cardiff, we discussed whether Africans were better equipped sexually 
than Europeans. He had heard they were, he said. Though he was 
completely devoid of humour in the ordinary sense, there was a strain 
of impishness in him which came out from time to time; even a touch of 
irony - as when he remarked that printing The Guardian in London 
would be disastrous because then people would read it instead of just 
praising it. I did not venture to point out - what was, indeed, the case - 
that as things were, this was, with the best will in the world, impossible, 
because of the many misprints in the London edition. 

Sometimes C.P. bicycled out to Didsbury to have tea with Kitty and 
me in the flat we had moved into from Kingsley’s house. He was so 
amiable and flatteringly appreciative of my work that I should in the 
ordinary way have responded by liking him. Actually, I never did; I 
sensed something false and phoney in him -or thought I did. This 
feeling was heightened by my great and growing fondness for Ted, who 
submitted to being bullied by his father with sullen acquiescence but 
much inward resentment. He told me once that he had never known 
C.P. do any truly disinterested act in the whole of his life; everything 
he said and did, however ostensibly high-minded, had an interested 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 177 

motive. Even his bowing out of the editorship in favour of Ted was more 
nominal than real; he continued in practice to hold all the strings in his 
hand. He represented, indeed, to a superlative degree, the great moral 
fallacy of our time -that collective virtue may be pursued without 
reference to personal behaviour. Thus he believed passionately in 
equality as long as he himself could enjoy the company of Oxford men 
who had read Greats; in security as long as he did not have to foot the 
bill for his own employees. His passion for freedom varied in direct ratio 
with the distance from Manchester of those demanding it, and he loved 
all mankind except those among his associates and underlings he 
considered to be socially or intellectually inferior. These were made all 
too well aware of his lofty disdain. 

In our cubby holes along The Guardian corridor we expounded all the 
hopes and apprehensions this righteously exalted old man entertained 
for mankind. We, as it were, wrote him down nightly for the edification 
of his paper’s readers, in words that, as we fondly believed, would 
reverberate round the world. Bringing cheer to Asian peasants as they 
followed their wooden ploughs, uplifting bearded Bedouins as they rode 
their camels along desert tracks; spreading enlightenment over palm and 
pine, over campus and conveyor-belt, wherever there were minds to 
think and hearts to feel. Tapping away at our typewriters on his behalf, 
we called upon moderate men of all shades of opinion to draw together 
to ensure that wiser counsels should prevail. Wars which threatened, all 
to be averted; wrongs which the downtrodden and oppressed suffered, 
all to be righted; conflicts all to be honourably resolved, and injustices 
all to be honourably corrected. The people of this country will never for 
a moment countenance, we sternly proclaimed; ourselves, the people 
of this country and C.P., momentarily identified; one in three and three 
in one, another Holy Trinity. They will recoil as one man, they will 
speak with one voice, they will scornfully repudiate; there was no end to 
the honourable capers the people of this country might be expected to 
cut - on our typewriter keyboards. We charted their best course, spelt 
out for them their finest destiny. If fingers faltered - because false 
sentences will never finish, sprouting clauses as profligately as gluttons 
stretch out their meals or spendthrifts accumulate debts -one had 
somehow to press on, resolutely raising the little hammers to pound out 
the requisite number of words. Lubricated with strong tea, fortified with 
buttered toast, stupefied with tobacco smoke; dog-eared press-cuttings 
once more turned over, past exhortations resuscitated and refurbished, 
shuffling along in other men’s cast-off hopes, until the home-stretch 

C.W.T.— M 



178 The Green Stick 

reached at last - In this day and age surely not beyond the wit of man . . * 
To be hoped . . . Greatly to be hoped . . . Devoutly to be hoped . • . 
What, I sometimes cried out in anguish - what, oh what is to be hoped? 

This is the dark night of the leader-writer, when there seems to be 
no wit in men in this or any other day and age; no moderate men and no 
shades of opinion to draw them together; nothing at all to be hoped. As 
with that other dark night of the soul described by St John of the Cross, 
for those who endure to the end, it passes, giving place at last to fulfil- 
ment and peace. Easily, smoothly, the concluding words are ejected like 
brushless shaving cream from a full tube - Devoutly to be hoped that 
resort to brute force will be eschewed . . . Self-interest in the narrower 
sense put aside . . . Solution hammered out at the conference table . . . 
On the one hand safeguards ... on the other provides for the possibility 
of . . . thereby ensuring that . . . Hurrah! The job is done. Wiser 
counsels after all have prevailed, moderate men of all shades of opinion 
have drawn together. Positively glowing with the nobility of the final 
sentiment, I put back the cuttings in their folder and hand in my copy, 
to be fed in due course to the rotary machines. Soon I hear them 
chewing it over like giant molars. 

Convivial in the Stock Bar; then in the Press Club, where, when 
Parliament was not sitting, the solid, dignified figure of the Honourable 
Member for Salford South was usually to be found. Back to the office 
for a last look at the news, and to pick up the first edition - pale shadow 
of the others to come, but still indubitably the next day’s paper, whose 
possession the night before bestows a certain distinction; like eating 
strawberries out of season. Bearing it, I make my way homewards, 
along Oxford Street (Manchester being, with all its ostensible local 
glory, full of metropolitan echoes - Piccadilly, Leicester Square, etc.) 
and on to Didsbury. In winter more often than not, houses shrouded in 
mist, with only occasional dulled vagrant footsteps to be heard, and dim 
shadowy passing figures to be seen; in summer, long evening shadows, 
and occasionally, when a late story had to be waited for, the first in- 
timations of dawn breaking across Victoria Park. At home, Kitty waiting; 
not pleased. Already the strife of egotistic living, of spent appetites and 
surreptitious actual or envisaged infidelities, charging the atmosphere 
with currents of rage and mutual reproach and accusation. Old rows 
that go on echoing in the limbo between deed and intent; lightning and 
thunder in the dark jungle of our human will. 

Ours was the standard interior of our kind; shabby divan, three book- 
rows will I have there, and a flagon for the cheap chianti. A set for Look 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 179 

Back in Anger and a hundred other like productions, assembled some 
two decades ahead of the Royal Court. The characters, too - we live 
out the plays long before their vogue upon the stage, which is why they 
have so often a stale dtjd vu air about them; why, as the applause breaks, 
there are sour looks among those who waited for Godot years and years 
ago, played football on The Wasteland when its only begetter still wore 
a monocle and called himself Captain Eliot; who howled and howled 
when Ginsberg in tiny ringlets was lisping out the Torah under a 
Rabbi’s spreading beard. 

So, before going to bed, I sit surlily reading my first edition; mopping 
up the news like an avid eater cleaning up his plate with bread. The 
addiction had already gripped me. In the morning all the papers 
delivered, a daily pile of soggy newsprint on our doorstep; then the 
evenings, the Sundays, the weeklies, the monthlies. It was to be a life- 
long passion, only now, belatedly, beginning to wane; later, of course, to 
be augmented by listening and seeing. Impossible to calculate the vast 
expense of time and concentration on this evanescent pursuit; the 
equivalent, maybe, of painting twenty Sistine Chapels, or writing the 
Decline and Fall of several Empires. Words tapped out or scribbled or 
telephoned; then printed, rushed to delivery vans, trains and aeroplanes, 
put under door-knockers or laid beside bottles of milk, held up at break- 
fast tables, uncomfortably squinted at in buses and trains; by midday 
discarded, by tea time superseded, by evening relegated to lighting fires 
or wrapping fish. My own role a voyeur one; peering in through a keyhole 
or camera-shutter at the antics of those set in authority, and deriving 
therefrom some sort of perverse vicarious satisfaction, which, passed on, 
catered for a similar addiction in others. News an expression of the 
hypochondria of a sick society - like endlessly sucking at a thermometer, 
standing on the bathroom scales; for ever anxiously examining the 
tongue’s colour, the breath’s odour, the urine’s consistency; pressing 
the gut for intimations of ulcer or cancer, dreading the appearance of a 
chancre, a gonorrhoeal emission. In a civilisation dropping to pieces, 
news takes some of the sting out of happenings. So, more and more of it; 
all day long, and often all night long, too. A sort of Newzak, corres- 
ponding to Muzak; instead of a melange of drooling tunes endlessly 
played, a melange of drooling news endlessly heard. As the motor-cars 
sweep along the broad highways, Newzak is absorbed; the face at the 
wheel, intent, almost religious and uplifted, detached from the whole 
mundane stationary world in this other ethereal world of perpetual 
motion from nowhere to nowhere, cigarette drooping, suit newly come 



180 The Green Stick 

from the cleaners swinging to and fro on its coat-hanger like a clock's 
pendulum. In distant Peking, in nearby Washington D.C., in London 
and Paris and Rome, and everywhere, happenings, coming into view like 
coloured balloons. An endless succession of balloons of all colours and 
sizes. News. 

Such was now my trade; part of the process of translating life and its 
meaning and significance into pictures, thereby draining it of its blood 
and flesh, its livingness. Surely it was not by chance that the age's 
essential invention in communications has been the camera. We needed 
it, and so invented it. Needed it to provide us with these very pictures; 
first stills, then moving; first black-and-white, then in living colour; first 
silent, then speaking; one-dimensional, two-dimensional, stereoscopic. 
As for the script, where my business lay - it, too, had to be what was 
seen with the eye rather than through it. Actualities rather than imagin- 
ings. Literature would not do, art would not do, these being through- 
the-eye activities. (Having no role, they were, in fact, to expire.) All 
that remained was pictures; the cameraman’s, or the commentator’s. 
Ultimately, a combination of both, when the deception would be 
complete; between the Action! and the Cut!, between the first clapper- 
board and the last, only fantasy. 

Over and above the cotton trade, the screeching trams, the massive 
blackened public buildings and statues of forgotten worthies - cham- 
pions of free trade, abolishers of slavery, instituters of polytechnics and 
public libraries; beyond the slums and the shops, the warehouses beside 
the stagnant Ship Canal, the clatter of occasional surviving clogs, the 
Midland Hotel with its majestic palm court -over and above all of 
them, like seraphim and cherubim high up on a white cloud in one of 
those vast Renaissance paintings of Creation or Transfiguration, there 
perched a little cluster of the culturally elect. Professors and teachers 
from the university, among them the massive swollen figure of Namier 
and the more whimsical one of A. J. P. Taylor, then his acolyte. En- 
lightened manufacturers' ladies with piled up hair and embroidered 
bodices who provided buffet and claret cup, and the presence of some 
distinguished visiting flautist, or bearer of good tidings from the League 
of Nations; even, on occasion, an Ouspensky, or Theosophist from 
Adyar with words to say on transmigration. The Halle Orchestra, the 
Rep (then performing in a cavernous converted tram depot), The 
Guardian , of course, all provided their quota, along with an occasional 
museum or art gallery curator, librarian, local scribe or lady novelist from 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 181 

the West Riding, Jewish or Armenian aficionado from Cheetham Hill 
(Harold Laski or Michael Arlen progenitors), rumbustious magnate 
with a taste for Trollope and a son at Bedales. The north country 
accents, muffled or defiant, seemed even then to contain a hint of 
migratory intentions southwards, with conquest in view; Arnold Bennett, 
J. B. Priestley, D. H. Lawrence beckoned, and many another cultural 
pilgrim would follow. Likely Lads in Eng. Lit., aspiring novelists-in- 
the-raw, rough but rewarding bedfellows for randy debs and girls with 
cultural aspirations from Girton and the Cheltenham Ladies* College, 
to be picked up at the Tate Gallery on a warm summer’s afternoon. 
They, too, dramatis personae for a multitude of plays, novels, films and, 
above all, television documentaries yet unborn. 

Kitty and I were no more than occasional frequenters of this society. 
For relaxation we used often to go into Derbyshire for long walks, 
battling our way across bleak moors and up windy hillsides, and often 
arguing or quarrelling as we went along; the wear and tear of two egos 
in two bodies laid side by side, each seeking fulfilment in the other’s 
flesh under the watchful eye of the other’s ego. It was tempting to look 
for answers to our dilemma, and, in exploring them, we joined in the 
great contemporary cacophony on the same theme. The marriage tie 
must not hamper or hinder us; marriage and the family were things of 
the past, as was jealousy, fidelity, parenthood. We abolished the lot, 
along with property, capitalism, money, and all other appurtenances of 
what we had already begun to call the Establishment, deriving the term 
from the Anglican Church as by law established. Having cleared away all 
this jungle, we should, we confidently believed, be free to live together 
of choice, not necessity. Finding satisfaction in one another’s bodies 
without any sense of guilt or possessiveness; our appetites a great 
ecstasy rather than a great anguish, the Apostle Paul with his To be 
carnally minded is death’ cast out in favour of the Apostle Lawrence 
with his To be carnally minded is life.’ Phallic purification, as it were, 
cauterising and restoring our mind-infected flesh. 

A more regular walk for me was what I called the Round; following 
the raised bank of a turgid stream that wound its way through a stretch 
of wasteland for some reason unbuilt on, just behind where we lived. It 
could scarcely be called country. Smoke and soot had settled upon it; the 
water of the stream seemed thick and lifeless, and though fishermen 
sometimes stood with their lines beside it, I never saw them pull any- 
thing out except old boots, and once a lady’s hat. The very green of the 
trees and grass seemed faded and stale. In every direction, the skyline 



1 82 The Green Stick 

was houses or belching chimneys; there were some adjoining allotments, 
heroically cultivated, and a football ground of sorts where in the school 
holidays and on summer evenings urchins played. The memory of this 
place has stayed with me more tenaciously and vividly than the Derby- 
shire or Cheshire countryside, or even than the Yorkshire moors or 
Lake District of our more ambitious outings. I must have pounded 
through it in all sorts of weather and temperature, some hundreds, if not 
thousands, of times; sometimes, in moods of special restlessness, com- 
pleting the Round, and then at once beginning on it again, to the sur- 
prise of anyone who had happened to notice me on my first circumlocu- 
tion. Always conscious of being incarcerated, a prisoner, the Round so 
pleased me, perhaps, because it was like what I imagine prison exercise 
to be. Not to get anywhere; always, essentially, remaining in the same 
place, yet moving, footstep following footstep, arms swinging, sweat 
accumulating, and in the mind the everlasting questions that were never 
answered, the everlasting desires that were never satisfied, the everlasting 
longings that were never realised. Curiously enough, returning to 
Manchester after many years, and looking for familiar landmarks which 
I could not find, I came upon the Round exactly as it had been. It alone 
survives unchanged and intact; The Guardian office in Cross Street has 
disappeared. 

I habituated myself to relating my life to news as farmers do to weather. 
This soon became second nature, and long after the necessity was 
passed the habit persisted; like the man in Rasselas who had convinced 
himself that without his exertions the sun would never rise or set. We 
leader-writers were expected to turn up at the office in the early after- 
noon; one mooned around, dropped into the sub’s room to see what had 
come in, pored over the early editions of the evening papers. At some 
point or other one would usually be sent for by Ted or C.P.; if not, one 
felt anxious and unwanted. Then, the subject of that day’s leader agreed 
on, one would settle down to it, cuttings spread out, Encyclopaedia 
Britannica or some other relevant book or work of reference consulted, 
maybe even a telephone call made; though the telephone had not by any 
means yet come into its own as the constant instrument of daily 
journalism, and, in any case, on our penurious paper, its use, except for 
local calls, was frowned upon as an extravagance. A piece of paper fixed 
in the typewriter, a heading underlined - as it might be, Trouble in 
Panama - and off we go: ‘The overthrow of Sr Farrago’s (one had to be 
careful about Signor, Senor, Senhor; Sr was safer) Government and 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 1 83 

replacement by a military junta (junta had a nasty sound, and could 
safely be applied to any regime displeasing to the Guardian which had an 
officer above the rank of major in it) under the leadership of the 
notorious General Fandango (‘notorious’ was safe enough for any 
Panamanian general) would seem to be a retrograde step . . . and so on, 
leading up to the anchor- or hinge-word ‘Meanwhile’. After ‘meanwhile’, 
came, almost as a matter of course, ‘it remains to be seen’, the equivalent, 
in distant and doubtful situations, of ‘it is to be hoped’. What precisely 
remained to be seen in Panama just then, now escapes me, but doubtless 
it was to do with whether the general’s strong-arm men would be able 
to terrorise the peasants and factory workers into acquiescence, and 
tranquilise a population, divided between Moderato and Exaltado 
factions (two easily invented words betokening a deep knowledge of the 
subject), and notoriously subject to political instability. 

Or one might have some other additional task like an editorial para- 
graph for the Manchester Guardian Weekly , remunerated at the rate of 
twelve-and-six a time. Or a back-page article to finish off, these being 
fictional pieces of about a thousand words for which one received four 
guineas; only three, however, if the background was derived from an 
expenses-paid Guardian assignment. Or a book review to do. I easily 
took to this work, which I have gone on doing more or less regularly 
ever since. My only steady occupation, and the only ‘serious’ reading 
that, with a very few exceptions, I have ever undertaken. I soon became 
versed in sampling a book here and there; like a wine-taster taking a 
mouthful, washing it several times round his mouth, and then spitting it 
out. Versed, too, in digesting a blurb (Miss So-and-so’s vivid account of 
a relationship between a young aggressive village schoolmaster and a 
middle-aged recluse whose archaeologist husband thinks of nothing but 
his digs), in grubbing up a sentence here, a sentence there, to suggest 
familiarity with some unknown subject; in playing with phrases which 
find their way into publisher’s advertisements: I could not lay it 
down . . , Essential reading for all students of contemporary affairs. . . , 
Unique contribution to . . . Alas, how easily the hack acquires his tools! 
In A. N. Monkhouse’s absence on holiday, I even sat in as Literary 
Editor, and in that capacity included in the Book Page a review by 
myself of Mrs Catherine Carswell’s book on D. H. Lawrence, The 
Savage Pilgrimage , the first of a long grisly line of female outpourings 
about him. In view of the fact that Mrs Carswell was a valued con- 
tributor to the Guardian , my closing peroration caused much indigna- 
tion, within and outside the paper: ‘How sick one gets of Don and John 



184 The Green Stick 

Patrick (Mrs Carswell’s husband and son)! How sick one gets of 
Lawrence himself! How sick, how unutterably sick, of Mrs Carswell!’ 
On the whole I welcomed Monkhouses’s return with relief. 

I struggled on with my own writing, fitfully but ardently. To my great 
surprise and delight, it was finally arranged that my play Three Flats 
was to be produced by the Stage Society. The producer was Matthew 
Forsyth, and I note in the case several names that afterwards became 
well known - Barry K. Barnes, Dorice Fordred, Mary Hinton, Mar- 
garet Yarde; among the extras, Anthony Quayle. I went up to London 
for a dress rehearsal, and sat beside Forsyth, but was too overwhelmed 
to say anything much. The play did not seem to be by me; the set - a 
ground-floor flat and, above it, two adjoining first-floor ones - and the 
words as I heard them spoken, were quite unfamiliar. Nor have I now 
the courage to read them in the published version, of which I still 
possess a copy. I went with Kitty and my father and mother to the 
Sunday evening production at the Prince of Wales Theatre. It was an 
occasion of delirious happiness; there were shouts for the author, and I 
took a curtain with the cast. My father’s pleasure was a great satis- 
faction to me, and I hope it offset some at least of his disappointments. 
His eyes were shining. I still had the feeling, though, that the play was 
by someone else; even when I read the notices, which were reasonably 
encouraging, especially The Times , whose dramatic critic wrote (I quote 
from a faded cutting pasted in a scrapbook): ‘All is vain, all is scattered 
and seemingly unrelated, all is at once sad and absurd. What is the uni- 
fying cause and truth? The author asks his questions with skill and 
sympathy, pointing it with faultless observation, that he never permits to 
become shrill ... In brief, a play distinguished by the sureness of its 
detail and the economy of its writing.’ I read those words over a good 
many times at breakfast on the Monday morning. Subsequently I learnt 
that the writer of the piece was Charles Morgan. There is always a catch in 
everything. Shaw was in the audience, but my attention was focused on 
the stage. He wrote a long letter to Mrs Webb about the play, which I only 
saw recently. Though quite appreciative, it showed a total unawareness 
of what I was getting at. This did not really surprise me, since I came 
to realise that Shaw got everything wrong - Shakespeare, Caesar, the 
Soviet Union, Mussolini, St Paul. He had a sparkling intelligence but a 
low understanding; this enabled him to be very funny, but whenever he 
was serious he was absurd. In any event, he was too encased in his own 
narcissism, too remote from real life ever to do more than grimace at it 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 185 

through a long-distance telescope. Once Lady Rhondda asked me to 
accompany her to lunch with him, but afterwards telephoned in some 
embarrassment to call the invitation off. When pressed, she told me that 
it was because I had referred to Shaw in something I had written as 
‘that absurd vain rich old man*. He particularly resented, she said, being 
called rich. It surprised me at the time that he should be so touchy; now 
I can see that it was understandable enough. He wanted to make a lot of 
money without being considered rich, as Casanova wanted to have 
women without being considered lecherous, or as Stalin wanted to 
operate a terror without being considered cruel. James Agate’s notice 
was patronising but kindly, and advised me to change my name at once. 
Though Ransome had proffered similar advice, I resolutely declined to 
follow it. 

When, a few days later, I heard from my agent, Walter Peacock, that 
Universal Pictures had bought an option on Three Flats for five hundred 
pounds, and that if and when they made a film based on it I should get 
some thousands of pounds (I can’t remember how many, but it seemed 
a great many at the time), I thought my fortune was made. Of course 
they never did make a film, and though I wrote a number of other plays 
I never had another professionally produced. So it all came to nothing. 
At one point, Peacock arranged for me to meet Charles Laughton with a 
view to writing a play for him, and we lunched together in his hotel 
room in Manchester. I can’t now remember what sort of play I sug- 
gested, but I know we only got to it in the last ten minutes of our 
luncheon. Before then, he had been telling me how, to get in the right 
state of mind when he was playing A1 Capone in Edgar Wallace’s play, 
On the Spot , he used to remember how as a schoolboy he had believed 
that his fingers were going to drop off as a result of masturbating. This 
was my only brief, and not very pleasing, encounter with the theatre 
and actors, though Peacock remained a friend to the end of his life. He 
was a curious melancholic figure, in a permanent state, as it seemed to 
me, of faint uncomplaining excitation by constant contact with pretty 
aspiring actresses anxious to please him. A sort of lovable green-room 
sage or oracle. He did not care much for my plays, though he did his 
best to get them put on. I expect he was right; my impression is that the 
themes were too abstract and symbolic, and the dialogue correspondingly 
stilted. 

A mellifluous American named Constant Huntington, managing 
director of Putnam, the publisher of Three Flats y urged me to write a 
novel. It was my first acquaintance with the world of Henry Jame 3 and 



1 86 The Green Stick 

the Europeanised New Englander, beautifully dressed, elaborately 
courteous, enormously slow - in Huntington's case, this slowness 
accentuated by his practice of carefully masticating his food a fixed 
number of times, which meant that, lunching with him, one was liable 
to find oneself well into the celery and cheese when he had barely 
finished his soup. I suppose T. S. Eliot represented the last fine flower 
on this particular plant, unless, indeed, you count Joe Alsop, which 
would be to reduce the whole thing to absurdity. On one occasion 
Huntington took me out to lunch with Lloyd Osbourne, Robert Louis 
Stevenson's step-son, with whom he collaborated in writing The Wrong 
Box . I was very excited about it, and planned to get Osbourne talking 
about life in Samoa with his mother and step-father; alas, as has so often 
happened to me, I talked myself, and he barely uttered. He seemed, in 
any case, a rather taciturn sort of person, with a round, dull face and a 
rumbling American accent. All the same, it was an opportunity missed; 
one of many such. 

The novel I wrote at Huntington’s behest was called Autumnal Face ; 
about an ageing dispirited suburban lady, and her longings for a more 
exciting, full-blooded life, but patient acquiescence in her lot; based, of 
course, on my Croydon memories. I wrote it in the mornings in Dids- 
bury, between Rounds, going over it with Kitty as I went along; as I 
have everything I have ever done. It is dedicated to her. In the same 
scrapbook as the notice of Three Flats , there are some reviews - ‘Skill 
and insight . . . fascinating picture . . . first novel of a genuine artist . . 

I could go on culling such choice items from an otherwise moribund 
expanse of print. I note with a pang that one notice in the old Sunday 
Referee has a 16 pt headline: A young novelist to watch. Until I 
looked at these notices I had forgotten that, with prophetic insight, I 
gave the dreary suburban family I atomised the all too apt surname of 
Pill! 

The reception of my play and first novel, I suppose, along with what- 
ever kudos derived from a fairly brisk start on the Guardian , would have 
qualified me to set up there and then as a professional writer, without any 
necessity to be on the staff of a newspaper, and undertake the writing 
and other chores this entailed. I cannot recall that I even considered 
such a thing, or claim that I was held back from dedication to letters 
by financial or family considerations. Kitty would not have minded - 
she never has minded anything of that kind; we should have rubbed 
along perfectly well, as later on we did. The truth is that I have no fancy 
for a writer's life as such; some instinct told me that in contemporary 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 187 

circumstances it would prove sterile, and, ultimately, absurd. It would 
be Eng. Lit. and Little Dowden all over again. Living in some country 
retreat, by the Mediterranean if prosperous enough, or otherwise 
exotically situated. Coloured-shirted, sandalled, panama hatted for day- 
time wear, broad-brim for the evening, and maybe velvet jacketed. 
Puffing away at a pipe, dreaming of young girls, turning out a daily quota 
of words - ‘Mrs Farquharson sat in the sun, a novel with uncut pages 
listlessly held, her neat, trim figure elegantly disposed in yellow -a 
colour that suited her still flaxen hair coiled round tiny, shapely ears. 
Would Henry speak at last when he came to dinner; just the two of them? 
About Angela, and all that had happened since that so strange en- 
counter . . . ?’ Or some ferocious tirade in the Wyndham Lewis manner. 
Or Poundian? Or Joycean? Or, culled from Belloc, about the Faith, and 
Richard Coeur-de-Lion, and Thomas Aquinas? Or, perhaps worst of 
all, the Workers, and some champion of the down-trodden and op- 
pressed from Balliol, in baste shoes, who joined the hunger marchers, 
and reviewed the collected works of Lenin in the Worker , and supped at 
the 1917 Club with Ethel Mannin after Brecht. Or getting invited to 
Garsington, with a chance of catching a glimpse of Aldous Huxley, and 
hearing D. H. Lawrence shout across the dinner table at Bertrand 
Russell: ‘You’re all doomedl’ 

Kitty’s and my feelings in this matter were no doubt coloured by our 
friendship with Gerald Bullett and his wife, whom we occasionally 
visited, and they us. Gerald was a fairly successful novelist, always at 
work on a book, with the next one already at the planning stage; this 
one maybe to include a touch of incest - and why not after Oedipus? A 
plump man with a round face, humorous eyes and sad jowls, he and his 
wife lived in the usual two cottages run into one, with a thatched roof - 
so difficult to get repaired nowadays because all the delightful village 
arts and crafts were dying out, but fortunately they had a man, a droll 
delightful old fellow who was prepared to take it on. Gerald’s study was 
a large dark room with a lot of books lying about, mostly in their dust-* 
jackets; he did a bit of reviewing for the T.L.S. and other literary 
publications, but not enough to get in the way of his creative work. His 
wife typed for him, very energetically; one could hear her in the morn- 
ings bashing away at her keyboard - like volleys of machine-gun fire. In 
the evenings, likewise energetically, she crocheted or knitted while the 
rest of us talked; only very occasionally joining in, her voice sharp and 
bright and cheerful. Theirs had been a runaway match; they were 
deeply attached to one another, kind and considerate by nature. Yet 



1 88 The Green Stick 

somehow there seemed to be something weighing them down; especially 
him. If they had some unexpected windfall, like unexpected transla- 
tion rights for one of his novels, they would launch out on a trip 
to the Greek Islands, or even farther afield. Their only child was at 
an ultra-progressive school, and Gerald was a member of the Savile 
Club. 

He and I often went for country walks together over the downs when 
we were staying with them; laughing a lot as we went along, and main- 
taining together the fantasy that we were aloof from the ordinary world 
where people cashed cheques and grabbed girls, as well as a little fame, 
when a chance offered. All that, we implied, was outside our ken. To 
sustain the fantasy, we would sow our conversation with qualifying 
phrases like ‘what’s called*. Thus, we would say, ‘I take it, he was what’s 
called “in love”,’ or: ‘I believe that, actually, she’s quite comfortably off, 
and moves in what’s called “Society”!* As 1939 approached, Gerald 
tended to emerge from his terra-cotta tower and write furious letters to 
The Times , or, if not accepted there, to Time and Tide, denouncing 
Neville Chamberlain in unbridled terms, or advocating World Govern- 
ment based on the transferred vote as a solution to all our troubles. 
Sometimes, so intense was his rage, he compressed it all into a postcard, 
as a man might express all his pent-up fury in a single expletive In the 
war years, he worked in the BBC, beaming programmes on Milton or 
Wordsworth to the Nazi-occupied countries with a view to raising their 
morale. In a nearby studio Orwell was doing the same sort of thing to 
India. I think Gerald enjoyed this work, especially when the Blitz was 
on; in an underground studio in Oxford Street, holding forth on Lycidas 
or the Ode on the Intimations of Immortality , while the Luftwaffe roared 
overhead and the ground shook below him. The last glimpse I had of 
him was when he stood in the doorway of a flat Kitty and I had in 
Regent’s Park, on his way to the Savile Club to dine with some choice 
spirits - Gilbert Harding, Gerald Barry, C. P. Snow; his large moon face 
crumpled and woebegone as he told me that he didn’t want to write any 
more novels; hadn’t anything more to say, his act being, as he put it, 
played out. Like an old recitative man with a funny bowler and a nose 
that lit up, wanting to get off the stage. Well, he did, as it happened, 
because shortly afterwards he died. 

I had an instinctive aversion to this role of man-of-letters, as I had to 
being ordained. Both roles related to things I cared greatly about, but 
somehow, in the existing state of affairs, neither seemed appropriate. 
As I see it, in the twentieth century the genius of man has gone into 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 189 

science and the resultant technology, leaving the field of mysticism and 
imaginative art and literature almost entirely to charlatans and sick or 
obsessed minds. The result has been that, whereas in the last half 
century more progress has been made in the exploration of man's material 
circumstances, and in the application of the lmowledge thereby gained, 
than in the whole of the rest of recorded time, the corresponding con- 
tribution to art and literature has been negligible and derisory. The 
circumstances of the age are just not conducive to such activities, and 
those who nonetheless pursue them tend to become unhinged or junkies 
or alcoholics, if not all three. This is particularly true of American 
practitioners; as Gore Vidal has pointed out, it is difficult to think of a 
single contemporary American writer of any note who is not either an 
alcoholic or on the way to becoming one. 

In such circumstances, reporting and commenting upon contemporary 
happenings seemed preferable to dancing and grimacing on the grave of 
a dead culture. News was the raw material of this new trade, consisting 
of jerkily written messages torn off teleprinter machines, or long screeds, 
sometimes difficult to decipher, from Our Own or someone else’s 
Correspondent. Sometimes the Correspondents themselves made an 
appearance; arriving, as it were, booted and spurred from distant places, 
and inclined to be somewhat contemptuous of editorial scribes toiling 
away at typewriters to produce sententious comment on the news they 
so heroically tore with rough strife through the iron gates of censorship 
and other natural and artificially imposed impediments. It was in the 
nature of things that they should appear to be in fancy dress; as Robert 
Dell from Paris, with his white gloves and cane and rakish felt hat and 
neat white moustache; like a seaside repertory Proust. At the Stock Bar 
we delighted in his tales of who was whose mistress in the Gauche 
Radicale, and listened attentively to how he outwitted the Quai d’Orsay, 
and what was said at his tete-i-tetes with Maxim Litvinov. 

Then there was the Rev. C. F. Andrews, hot foot from Gandhi's 
ashram in Ahmedabad. Bearded, every inch a guru, with meek downcast 
eyes, he seemed to be saying that his heart sank when he reflected how, 
though well past thirty, he had still not been crucified. One could not 
but share his sorrow, more particularly as there now seemed little 
possibility of this unaccountable gap in his range of experience being 
rectified. He was also fond of comparing Gandhi’s various appearances 
before the Indian courts with Christ's before Pilate. Scott leant a good 
deal on Andrews, whom he liked, in shaping The Guardian's attitudes 
towards British policy in India, though curiously enough when he met 



190 The Green Stick 

Gandhi himself, despite Andrew’s mutual recommendations, he found 
the experience distasteful. I think perhaps they were too alike to get on 
well together; if Gandhi had been born of Unitarian parents in Lanca- 
shire he would almost certainly have become owner-editor of The 
Guardian , and likewise, if Scott had been born the son of a Kathiwar 
State Dewan, he could almost certainly have become a Mahatma. They 
met when Gandhi was over in London for the Indian Round Table 
Conference. C.P. had to fight his way to him through a posse of Quakers 
and even then found the Mahatma at his spinning-wheel and little 
inclined to talk, which was calculated to irritate him inordinately. 
Gandhi’s meeting with Charlie Chaplin round about the same time was 
as successful as the one with Scott had been disastrous; the clown and the 
Mahatma were complementary images of the same thing, a gargoyle and 
a steeple in juxtaposition. I attended the official opening of the Round 
Table Conference by George V on behalf of The Guardian . It was a 
tremendous turn-out - Maharajahs and other Indian princes, the Aga 
Khan as huge as Chesterton, knights brown and white, turbans and 
shining pates, politicians, policemen, and even an odd member of the 
public vaguely curious to know what, if anything, was to happen to the 
brightest jewel in their sovereign’s crown. Presiding was the then Prime 
Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, already well on the way to the condition 
of total incoherence and irresolution which marked the last stages of his 
political career. His opening address was vintage stuff, containing, as I 
recall, a remarkable appeal for ‘the lion (I don’t know which is the lion) 
to lie down with the lamb (I don’t know which is the lamb).’ It gave rise 
among those present to a sort of lions and lambs game, with everyone 
trying to decide to which category they belonged Only King George V 
seemed quite certain; he, it was clear, considered himself as indubitably 
belonging to the lions. Despite the opening pomp and circumstances, the 
Conference soon got bogged down in a plethora of words, to which I 
contributed my quota in the shape of long messages to The Guardian . In 
making our getaway from India we laid down a vast preliminary smoke 
screen of words in the shelter of which we were able to make our dis- 
positions for withdrawal. 

To me, far the most interesting and impressive of the correspondents 
was F. A. Voigt from Germany. He did not need to dress up as a 
German; he was one (his family belonged to the sizeable German com- 
munity in Manchester, and had a music shop there), with the raw 
features, desperately emphatic speech, powerful mind and ultimately 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 191 

tragic disposition of the race. If Dell was a pinchbeck Proust, he was a 
Nietzsche; a wild swordfish put to swim in The Guardian aquarium 
among the minnows and the goldfish and the Portuguese men-of-war. I 
admired enormously the furious indignation with which he described 
the growing threat of a Nazi takeover in Germany, of the mounting 
terror and violence that was building up there. Unlike other corres- 
pondents, he stressed all the time the moral consequences of what was 
happening; showing that it was not just war that threatened, but a moral 
catastrophe which could engulf whatever remained of western civilisa- 
tion. Voigt’s strong unequivocal attitude made him an alien element in 
The Guardian's measured columns, especially after the outbreak of war 
in 1939. After he left the paper, he became editor of the Nineteenth 
Century and After , providing in it almost the only free comment and 
criticism of Allied policy - apart from Tribune } under Aneurin Bevan, 
with George Orwell as literary editor - which stands to-day as a shining 
exception to the prevailing servile acceptance of Churchill’s leadership 
in all its aspects and with all its implications. When Voigt turned the 
furious indignation with which he had lambasted the Nazi terror on to 
Stalin’s, his former liberal friends and associates discovered in him a 
Nazi sympathiser. Another liberal newspaper, the News Chronicle , ran 
an article about the Nineteenth Century headed, hitler’s favourite 
reading, with pictures of the Fiihrer and Voigt looking amicably across 
at one another. For this, the News Chronicle was sued, and I was proud 
to appear in court to testify to Voigt’s record of integrity and dis- 
tinguished journalism. 

The case was heard during the Blitz, and every so often an alert 
sounded and the court was adjourned. It was an eerie experience, but 
somehow I felt that the proceedings were more relevant and important 
than the war itself. In a sense, they were the war - the true war. The 
judge - Scrutton - conducted the case with impeccable impartiality, and 
I was uplifted to think that, in a world gone mad, being tom apart and 
destroyed by rival fanaticisms and power-maniacs, it was still possible 
for a case involving these passions to be dispassionately heard and justly 
concluded. Voigt got damages and an apology from the News Chronicle , 
and I returned to my military duties, such as they were. After the war I 
saw Voigt occasionally; he fell on evil days, no one wanted his work, and 
he found a sanctuary on Time and Tide , that Salvation Army shelter 
provided by Lady Rhondda for destitute ideologues, where I, too, in my 
time, was glad to take an occasional cup of hot soup. He died largely 
forgotten and in poor circumstances despite a charming and devoted 



192 The Green Stick 

wife; his book TJnto Caesar , in my opinion the most powerful and per- 
ceptive political work of our time, has long been, and to the best of my 
knowledge remains, out of print. 

Whenever I was in London I used, of course, to look in at the House of 
Commons to see my father. I would wait for him in the public lobby; 
one of those points of intersection where rulers and ruled consort. Al- 
ways crowded, with many anxious faces such as people wear before an 
examination; whenever they are confronted with some test of character 
or occasion for self-assertion. There were the usual cranks, bearded or 
strangely dressed, their pockets bulging with petitions, liable to mutter 
to themselves and make weird gestures; the women in long skirts and 
hats decorated with fruit and flowers, sometimes with veils - rather in 
the style of Mrs Dobbs. These were always interminably waiting, and 
one wondered if they really had any serious possibility of an appoint- 
ment with an MP, or had just chosen to come there as a change from 
their usual haunts like the British Museum Reading Room and Hyde 
Park Corner and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. From certain points of vantage 
one could see the MPs coming towards the lobby, and observe how, 
when they heard their names called by the policeman in attendance, they 
threw out their chests, and summoned up a smile, assuming a bland and 
jaunty air, like actors coming on the stage. So I would hear my father’s 
name called, and it was exactly as though I were back at East Croydon 
Station, and had spotted him coming up the slope from the arrival plat- 
form; stepping out, ahead of the others. 

We usually made for the terrace, to walk up and down there, or stare 
at the river; or, if the sun was shining, take tea together, and watch 
other MPs and their guests; just occasionally catching a glimpse of one 
of the great ones - a cabinet minister, a face familiar from photographs 
or cartoons, and now seen in the flesh; MacDonald himself, or Baldwin, 
or Lloyd George. Inside, whatever the season or the weather, the atmos- 
phere always seemed dry and stale and sour. There are certain smells 
that remain with one - an elementary school cloakroom on a wet day; 
the combination of Gauloises cigarettes, urine and pungent scent which 
assails one’s nostrils on arriving anywhere in France; a barrack-hut on 
waking, with one’s thirteen fellow-inmates still asleep, and all the win- 
dows firmly closed. This House of Commons smell is one of them. I 
recall a rather similar smell in public transport vehicles in the USSR, 
especially on the underground. It is, I suppose, the smell of power, as 
in a brothel there is a smell of sex. My father liked introducing me to his 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 193 

fellow-members, most of whom seemed to have little to do, and spent 
their time sitting around in the bars and caf^s interminably talking, and 
listening for the division bell, which spurred them into sudden, and often 
unthinking, action. They had, I thought, a flaccid air; like under- 
exercised animals in the 200. Even my father, most energetic of men, 
seemed to have lost his momentum and settled into a kind of inertia, 
with a predisposition for doing nothing about anything. It was particu- 
larly noticeable in the trade union members, the only authentically 
proletarian ones. They were out of condition, sagging, running to fat; 
their faces creased and indolent, as though they were half-drunk; as, 
indeed, they sometimes were. The ostensible fanatics like Maxton gave 
an impression of character actors who had just come out of the make-up 
room; the lock of hair falling over the forehead, the wild eyes and 
accentuated eyebrows, the ardent words soulfully spoken. Likewise the 
Clydesiders, the sea-green incorruptibles. Years later, from the press 
gallery, I happened to see one of them - David Kirkwood - introduced 
into the House of Lords; in his robes and floppy hat, bowing religiously 
at the appropriate moments in the ceremony, a fellow-peer on each side 
of him, and Silver-Stick-in-Waiting presiding. It was a perfect exposi- 
tion of the humble and meek being exalted. From Saint-Simon one 
gathers that things were much the same at the court of Louis XIV, from 
Swift that they were not dissimilar at Queen Anne’s, from Djilas that 
very similar arrangements prevailed in Stalin’s; not to mention 
Nebuchadnezzar, Herod and the Emperor Nero. 

Journalism is, I suppose, among other things, an exploration of 
varieties of political experience in all their wild diversity, as William 
James explored varieties of religious experience. Some colonel screws a 
monocle into his eye and takes over a government. Or a bearded arch- 
bishop with a ring to kiss manoeuvres himself on to a throne. Or a black 
corporal breaks ranks and becomes a president. Or an obscure figure 
playing interminable games of chess in Geneva cafts, boring everyone, 
quarrelling with everyone, is suddenly whisked off to rule over a fifth 
of the world. Or a convention demagogue shouting and sweating and 
fixing, at last arrives in Connecticut Avenue, to occupy the White House 
and imagine that it falls to him to decide there whether or not the world 
is to be blown to smithereens. At fantastic levels of seeming splendour - 
a Viceroy moving from his law chambers to sit on a silver throne and 
accept the homage of maharajahs with diamonds as big as ostrich eggs 
stuck in their turbans. Equally at levels of infinite obscurity, as I once 
saw two archdeacons in gaiters sitting meekly side by side on a bench 

C.W.T. — N 



194 The Green Stick 

outside the door of the patronage secretary’s office at io Downing Street 
in Mr Attlee’s day, waiting, presumably, to be summoned inside to hear 
about preferment possibilities. Helping a brigadier on with his coat, 
attentive in a board room; gallant to wigs and dentures elegantly 
mounted on scrawny flesh, as Drake and Leicester and the other Eliza- 
bethans were to the hideous old scarecrow they served - all manner of 
calculated obsequiousness directed to the same end. My collector’s item 
is Brindisi after Mussolini’s fall, at the Hotel Imperiale where Marshal 
Badoglio had formed a government under Allied auspices. What a turn- 
out that was! Teeming with Intelligence officers, Italian generals in 
enormously wide riding-breeches, hurriedly assembled diplomatic 
excellencies, journalists, exiled venerable anti-Fascist liberals trans- 
ported from their Kensington lodgings to accept portfolios in the 
Marshal’s cabinet after many penurious years of patient endeavour in 
Bush House on behalf of the Overseas Service of the BBC. All manner of 
personnel pushing and shoving, in the dining-room and elsewhere, with 
a view to restoring the Four Freedoms and other democratic blessings 
to Italian soil; the only notable absentees being the beneficiaries of all 
this - the Italian people. Unless, indeed, the Imperiale staff could be 
considered such, as attentive to Marshal Badoglio and his entourage now, 
I noticed, as they had been in the days when he was the Duce’s com- 
mander-in-chief. 

My father’s pleasure in being an MP and in spending his evenings at 
Westminster was scarcely marred by public anxieties. These, in a way, 
sharpened the pleasure by giving the whole experience a flavour of 
drama. He even appended his signature to a memorandum calling for 
drastic action on the Government’s part, drawn up by Sir Oswald 
Mosley, then still a Labour MP and beloved of the Left-Wing. There 
were furious exchanges about ever rising unemployment and cuts in the 
social services; all-night sessions when Honourable Members emerged 
dishevelled and bleary eyed, with a sense of having been engaged in a 
ferocious bloody battle. But with whom? About what? No one really 
knew. The economic blizzard, as it was called, implying that no one 
could do anything about it except take shelter and hope for it to pass, 
blew as it listed, until there came a day when MacDonald went to the 
Palace and returned to announce that he had resigned as Labour Prime 
Minister and been entrusted with a mandate to form a National Govern- 
ment comprising both Tories and Liberals. No item of news has ever 
given me quite so overwhelming a feeling of outrage mixed with in- 
credulity as this one. All the pent up hatred of MacDonald and Snowden 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 195 

and J. H. Thomas, the three leading defectors, exploded. They had gone 
over to the enemy, betrayed the cause, shattered the work of years in a 
single act of treachery. 

I remembered my father telling me the last time I saw him how the 
members of the Parliamentary Labour Party had assembled to hear 
MacDonald explain the Government’s policy to them. He arrived late, 
in full evening dress and smoking a cigar; then, waving a condescending 
hand, had spoken a few meaningless words - my frrriends! ... - and 
hurried off to a reception given by Lady Londonderry. Now he would 
be able to attend as many such functions as he liked (Tonight every 
duchess in London will be wanting to kiss me,’ Philip Snowden quoted 
him as saying) in whatever rig he liked. Grinding my teeth, I saw him 
as the typical figure in the Soviet satirical paper KrokodiV s cartoons; 
the flunkey in some ridiculous uniform bowing and scraping to bankers 
carrying money-bags and noblemen wearing coronets. For the moment 
he and his accomplices were riding high, but, some dreadful fate must 
surely await them. As, indeed, it did; MacDonald, broken in health 
was finally turned out of office by his Tory associates, and died at 
sea - he, the great pacifist, brought back on a battle cruiser in a coffin 
draped with a Union Jack. Thomas was convicted of using budget 
secrets for personal enrichment, and disappeared without trace; Snow- 
den likewise withdrew from politics, continuing to mutter to the end of 
his days about Free Trade, the only article of faith left to him. It was an 
appropriate end to the three lost leaders, each of whom, in his own way, 
symbolised essential elements in the Labour Party. MacDonald, the 
romantic elevation of the down-trodden and oppressed to cultural and 
intellectual heights, Thomas the jovial proletarian at ease in his own 
breezy way with captains and kings alike, and Snowden the canny 
Yorkshireman, looking after our pennies so that the exchequer’s pounds 
could look after themselves. 

When afterwards I heard from Sidney Webb the full story of what 
happened, the drama seemed even more appropriate. In his soft, 
sibilant, toneless voice he described how he and the other cabinet 
ministers sat in the garden at 10 Downing Street on that warm August 
evening waiting for a telephone call from New York to tell them whether 
American banking houses were prepared to put up a loan sufficient to 
enable the Treasury to go on supporting the pound on the gold standard. 
When the answer came as no, there was nothing more they could do. 
They just shook their heads and departed, leaving MacDonald to go to 
the Palace and resign. Webb, now the first, and last, the one and only, 



196 The Green Stick 

Baron Passfield, was the perfect narrator; seated in an arm-chair, his tiny 
legs not reaching the ground, his goatee beard wagging, his pince-nez 
with their black ribbon steady on his large nose, he showed no awareness 
that the occasion he described had any particular momentousness. To me 
it seemed - and, for that matter, still seems - to mark the end of any 
notion that the Labour Party, or any Social Democratic party similarly 
constituted, can be an effective instrument of fundamental social change. 
Whenever, subsequently, I read or heard prospectuses of the great 
things a Labour Government might be expected to achieve, I remem- 
bered that little cluster of respectable-looking men in the garden at 
10 Downing Street, drawing at their pipes, occasionally getting up 
to stretch their legs, while they waited for Wall Street to decide their 
fate. 

Now the rage and fury at what I considered a great betrayal has long 
ago passed. Even the three traitors seem more absurd than villainous. 
One sees MacDonald as a victim of history rather than a shaper of it; a 
Scottish loon who found himself on the captain’s deck of a sinking ship, 
the less able to navigate it because he had got there by insisting that it 
was unseaworthy. He and the others might say with General Mihailo- 
vitch: ‘There is a storm in the world, and a gale and a whirlwind have 
carried me and my work away.’ So furious a storm, so wild a gale, so 
fierce a whirlwind, and such featherweight men and work. 

When the news came of MacDonald’s betrayal and formation of a 
National Government, Ted was away on holiday, and W. P. Crozier, the 
then news editor, was in charge of the paper. He was a rather unhappy, 
dyspeptic man with a bright red face and a buttoned up mouth, who 
hated the sight of me, and found my copy highly distasteful. In Ted’s 
absence I made no effort to come to terms with him, but just coasted 
along doing little or nothing. I looked on him as someone infinitely 
boring; a Nonconformist who had lost his faith but retained its scaffold- 
ing of self-denial. It is one thing to resolve to give up self-indulgence 
like drinking and smoking in order to foster and sharpen spiritual 
awareness, but to give them up, as Crozier had, just for abstemious- 
ness’s own sake is itself a form of self-indulgence, and a rather particu- 
larly repellent one at that. If he altered anything I wrote, it was always, 
as I considered, to make it more banal and flat That scarlet face looming 
across a laden desk at one, those fishy hostile eyes seeking an opportunity 
to cause unease and embarrassment, the dreadful silence that fell as I 
reached round in my mind for something, anything, to say - it all was 
so painful that, as far as possible, I avoided ever going in to see Crozier. 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 197 

An extra touch of the macabre was added because the women’s page 
editor was often with him for consultation, leaving behind a heavy cloud 
of pungent scent which hung over the office like sweet smog. In my 
youthful arrogance I failed to notice that, though Crozier happened to 
think little of me, he was an exceptionally able journalist, devoted to The 
Guardian, and even to the Scotts, though, I daresay, embittered by the 
way he had been passed over in preference for members of the family. 

Crozier’s immediate impulse was to support the National Govern- 
ment, which he did in a leader containing the unfortunate remark that 
J. H. Thomas was a dab hand at preventing ‘that sinking feeling’ (a 
reference to a then famous Bovril advertisement), and so a boon to any 
government In the Stock Bar that evening we raged over this piece of 
bad taste facetiousness. Crozier was never popular, partly because he 
held aloof from convivial gatherings, and seldom unbent. Now he was 
more unpopular than ever. Like all the dyed-in-the-wool Guardian men, 
including even Paddy Monkhouse, he was somehow stricken. Some 
sort of liberal lightning came down from heaven, so that they actually 
looked as though they had suffered a paralytic stroke; slumping along 
the Corridor wrapped in their own internal gloom, sometimes, as I have 
heard them, actually muttering to themselves. What was it that afflicted 
them? I suppose just the anguish of pretending - always pretending that 
it was possible to make virtue out of benevolence, happiness out of well- 
being, peace out of accommodation and freedom out of emancipation. 
The wish wrestling with the reality produced strain, which in turn 
produced despair, at last transforming the wish itself into a kind of 
annihilation, or death-wish. 

My dislike of Crozier took the form of totemising him, constructing 
my own hateful image of him; making his scarlet face even more scarlet, 
pursing up his lips even tighter, squeezing banalities out of him like 
pus. In the same sort of way, Africans seek, and sometimes manage, to 
injure their enemies via their likeness in some crude image or picture. 
We who pass for being more civilised can do the same thing in our 
imaginations. It is a form of diabolism to which I have been prone. 

When Ted returned, we all worked on him, inducing him to reverse 
the paper’s line and show up the fraudulence of MacDonald and his 
National Government. The turning point was at a luncheon in Ted’s 
house when we all held forth eloquently; one could see him yielding - as, 
indeed, apart from our persuasion, all his personal feelings strongly 
induced him to do. It was very humiliating for Crozier. Thenceforth, we 
thoroughly enjoyed ourselves lampooning the Government, the re- 



198 The Green Stick 

criminatory rows inside the Labour Opposition, and the three recusants 
with equal zest. I have to admit that, for me, journalism is only exhilarat- 
ing in opposition; I have never, happily, been in the position of having 
to support a government. When Mr Attlee got his huge majority in 1945, 
I got a job on the Daily Telegraph, and shortly after the Tories came 
back into power in 1951 , 1 niftily transferred to Punch . 

C.P. had played little part in these events; at last his vitality was 
ebbing, and in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 1932, he died. One 
final rapturous burst of adulation and he was soon largely forgotten; or 
remembered only as a symbol of good, noble journalism as distinct from 
the sensational kind instituted by Northcliffe. ‘C.P. would never have 
agreed to that,’ people would say, shaking their heads, and recalling his 
refusal to allow racing news, or liquor advertising, or the publicising of 
the Irish Sweep in The Guardian. Why, in the early days, he even, it 
seems, on one occasion turned down a full-page advertisement for 
corsets, worth £260, because it showed a picture of a lady wearing the 
advertised product. What was conveniently forgotten was that The 
Guardian subsisted on the profits of its sister-paper, the Manchester 
Evening News (does, indeed, to this day), in whose columns racing, the 
Irish Sweep, liquor advertising and uncorseted bosoms got the fullest 
play. Every now and again someone would write in to the effect that the 
malicious rumour was circulating in Manchester that the great C. P. 
Scott had some connection with that odious sheet the Manchester 
Evening News 9 and might this lie please be nailed. Such letters were put 
on C.P. *s desk, whence they disappeared without trace. Northcliffe is 
alleged to have undertaken a special pilgrimage to Manchester to salute 
Scott as the man who had uniquely shown that truth could be made to 
pay. The encounter between them must have been interesting, revealing, 

I should imagine, that they had more in common than might super- 
ficially be supposed. If Scott had made truth pay, a lot of his truth was 
lies; whereas Northcliffe, in making his lies pay, sometimes told the 
truth. So the contest in a way evened out. 

When Ted finally took over, he could not bring himself to move into 
his father’s office and sit in his chair. I found this somehow a sombre 
circumstance, as boding ill for his editorship. Actually, C.P.’s office 
never was occupied by anyone else; when the Cross Street premises were 
finally evacuated in August, 1970, having been sold for demolition, it 
was still empty, and just as when he had last used it. Now it has finally 
gone, along with the whole building, and the legend of C.P. with it. The 
first months under Ted’s editorship were among the pleasantest I have 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 199 

ever spent on the staff of a newspaper. We got on very well together; he 
had one of those receptive minds, always ready to discuss anything and 
consider anything, which made working under him pleasurable. No 
doubt I liked it the better because he tended to lean more on me than 
anyone else. I even got an unsolicited pay rise; something very unusual, 
if not unique, on The Guardian . It came about because I happened to 
remark, unthinkingly, that with a wife and child I didn’t pay any income 
tax. This led Ted - an expert on such matters - to look up what I was 
paid, and increase it quite substantially. He had to a high degree the 
virtue I most admire, perhaps because I so notably lack it, and, however 
hard I try, even now fail so miserably in my efforts to acquire it - a 
true humility. This was combined with a passionate honesty; a reaction, 
I daresay, to his father’s self-centredness masquerading as disinterested^ 
ness. There are few pleasanter things in life than the companionship of 
a totally honest mind, which is what Ted had. This may have accounted 
for a certain fixed melancholy in his disposition; The Guardian was no 
place for mental honesty. An honest mind was as out of place there as a 
virgin in the pages of Casanova or a pregnancy in D. H. Lawrence’s. 

In April following his father’s death Ted decided to go to the Lakes 
with his son Dick for some sailing. I drove up with them on the Friday 
evening. He had just bought a new Vauxhall car (I remember the grooves 
along the bonnet), and was in a particularly cheerful mood. I was to stay 
with some friends at Sawrey - the Spences - for the Friday and Saturday 
nights, returning to Manchester on Sunday because I was working that 
day. Ted dined with us on the Saturday evening; we all laughed a lot, 
and it was altogether a carefree, happy occasion. The next morning 
Mrs Spence drove me to Windermere, where I caught a train back to 
Manchester. Sunday afternoon on any newspaper is fairly drear, and 
The Guardian was no exception. News comes in laggardly, mostly from 
correspondents with hangovers; one turns over the Sunday papers list- 
lessly, looking with jaundiced eyes at stories which already seem about 
a thousand years old. Even the arrangements for getting tea at one’s 
desk usually don’t function. I was toying with the notion of proposing 
yet another leader on a project for an All-India Self-Governing Federa- 
tion then under consideration, when I was called to the telephone. It was 
Mrs Spence to tell me that Ted and Dick had been involved in a sailing 
accident on Lake Windermere, and that Dick had been rescued but Ted 
was drowned. I found some difficulty in registering what she had said; 
bad news transmitted on the telephone is particularly bleak and un- 
convincing. ‘You mean it’s all over; that Ted is . . .’ ‘Yes,’ she said, in a 



200 The Green Stick 

flat definitive voice. The time was round about five o'clock, and I realised 
that this would mean a crisis in the office. The first thing to do was to tell 
Crozier. I went into his room, and he looked up expecting me to propose 
a subject; I felt that the very words were shaping themselves with which 
he'd manage, as was his way when he was in the chair, to deflate what- 
ever I suggested, and make it seem dubious and not worth doing. In- 
stead, I just blurted out: ‘Ted’s dead!’ The effect on him was instant- 
aneous and extraordinary; I saw, or thought I saw - the impression was 
very strong - some strips of bright yellow come into the scarlet of his face. 
When he had collected himself, he asked me if I was sure. I said I was, 
and gave him Mrs Spence’s telephone number so that he could speak to 
her himself. Then I went back to my room, understanding that Crozier 
would have to get into touch with John Scott, Ted's brother, who was 
the paper's business manager, and so not in the office on a Sunday 
evening. 

It was the first time I’d felt this particular sort of shock; a numbing 
sense of utter desolation and lostness. I telephoned to Kitty to tell her; 
whenever anything happens to me, good or bad, anywhere in the world, 
my first impulse is to find her and tell her. She has that wonderful 
capacity for being neither unduly alarmed nor unkindly calm; above all 
not curious ; just calm and near, and conveying without saying anything 
her total readiness to take any shock and share any burden. A kind of 
fathomless, unquestioning sympathy and support. After speaking to 
Kitty I just sat doing nothing; it was impossible to even think of tackling 
the All-India Self-Governing Federation. Then Crozier came into my 
room and asked me to write Ted’s obituary; it seemed that nothing 
whatever had been done about it, and there were no cuttings. I rather 
fatuously asked Crozier how long it should be. It was the kind of ques- 
tion he was easiest with, but in this particular case he just shrugged and 
left me to it. Time was pressing for the first edition, and I got to work, 
sending the copy into Crozier sheet by sheet as I did it. All I had to help 
me with facts and dates was Ted's Who's Who entry. Crozier passed it 
all without altering a word - the last time this was to happen to anything 
I wrote for The Guardian until quite recently, when I did a leader-page 
article at the request of the present editor, Alistair Hetherington. When 
I came to Ted's editorship, I described with unnecessary gloating how 
he had drastically and courageously reversed the position first taken by 
the paper about the formation of MacDonald’s National Government. 
As I worked on, I was aware of Crozier standing in the doorway of my 
room holding that particular sheet in his hand. He was looking dis- 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 201 

tressed, and said he thought I had over-stressed the change in the paper’s 
attitude. Without stopping typing, I said I left it to him to make any 
changes he considered desirable. Actually, he didn’t make any changes, 
and nor did I. The episode, which I consider to be very discreditable, if 
not contemptible, on my part, sealed the hostility between us. 

Otherwise, the obituary came out quite well, and I received a con- 
gratulatory letter about it from J. L. Hammond, who wrote the official 
life of C.P. While writing it, and after, the thought had been in my mind 
that somehow Ted’s death was connected with his father’s. People die 
when the momentum of their lives is spent, and C.P. had, as it were, 
suffocated Ted; like an old tree keeping the sun, taking all the goodness 
of the soil, and thereby precluding an offshoot from growing and thriv- 
ing. When at last the old tree died, the other withered from the unaccus- 
tomed light and sustenance instead of burgeoning. This explained, as I 
thought, Ted’s reluctance to sit in his father’s chair; he was not strong 
enough to be him, and the long years of subservience prevented him 
from being himself. By the time he took over, he had no self to be. I felt, 
too, that Ted was a victim of the paper itself, succumbing where others 
had been maimed and stunted; fed to the rotaries, like our leaders. I 
tried to work all this out in a novel called Picture Palace about a liberal 
newspaper in a North country town. When it had already been sent out 
for review, The Guardian got an injunction and threatened legal pro- 
ceedings, in consequence of which it was withdrawn and suppressed. 
The particular passage to which exception was taken described the 
dependence of a newspaper as high-minded as The Guardian on a stable 
companion as low-minded as the Manchester Evening News\ a relation- 
ship I compared to someone living off the immoral earnings of his 
daughter. Subsequent efforts to get the novel published came to nothing; 
The Guardian's passionate advocacy of freedom of publication did not 
extend to books about itself. 

In the weeks that followed Ted’s death my position in the office was 
rather curious. Crozier continued to edit the paper, and was in due 
course confirmed as Ted’s successor, but John Scott had told him that 
as far as possible he should continue to follow the guidelines laid down 
by Ted, and that I, having been closest to Ted, was the best person to 
advise him on this. So for a while I was a kind of assistant editor. Crozier 
would come awkwardly into my room - 1 never went into his if I could 
possibly avoid it - and go through the motions of discussing with me 
points of policy and the choice of leaders. I suppose if I had been 
ambitious in that sort of way, I could have pressed home my advantage 



202 The Green Stick 

and got into the line of succession on the paper. Actually, I had no 
interest in anything of the kind; the thought of working under or with 
Crozier was hateful to me, and anyway I was sick to death of liberalism; 
of drawing together with moderate men of all shades of opinion. All I 
wanted to do was to kick them in the teeth and be gone. This suited 
Crozier perfectly, and for my part, I have never found any difficulty in 
leaving a job, or in disengaging myself while nominally still in it. 

To heighten my mood, there was the more or less total collapse of the 
Labour Party in the 1932 Doctor’s Mandate election, which returned 
MacDonald and his Tory allies to power with an immense majority. My 
father, of course, lost his seat at Romford. I spent the last two days of the 
election campaign with him. It was obvious that the tide was flowing 
strongly against us, but he refused to succumb to low spirits, and kept 
up the fight to the very last moment. We went prowling the streets 
together trying to rally our supporters, until the polling booths closed. It 
was a hopeless task; hoarse-voiced, exhausted, my father still could not 
bring himself to pass a street corner without addressing a non-existent 
meeting: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen . . .* Only a few ribald children gathered 
round him. It carried my mind back to those magical Surrey Street 
meetings, and the joke about the national debt which ought to be His 
Majesty’s. Now, suddenly, he seemed very old and tired; no more that 
prophetic figure against the skyline, but shrivelled and bent. In his case, 
too, a storm in the world and a whirlwind had carried him and his work 
away. We desisted at last and repaired to a nearby committee room; the 
same empty shop, the same posters and slogans, the same elderly lady 
helpers with grey dishevelled hair and drooping cigarettes; the same cups 
of strong tea, the same smell of stationery, ink and gum. They affected 
still to be confident of victory, but we knew we had lost - as, indeed, we 
had, by a huge turnover of votes. It was my father’s last election; the 
end of the road to that promised land I had so often rejoiced in on 
Saturday nights, securely tucked away in the tall red cosy corner in our 
South Croydon sitting-room. 

I decided on an impulse to drive back straight away to Manchester; 
through the foggy night, everything muffled and misty, past the slag- 
heaps and the furnaces; leaving Birmingham behind me, then the 
Potteries, dimly glowing clusters of yellow lights that seemed to be 
floating on banks of cloud; across wild moorland, with no sign of a 
fellow-human or a human habitation. No stars, no anything; only the 
wind screeching and, maybe, an owl hooting, a voice wailing. Heartland 
of the industrial North, once pulsating with life and energy; the world’s 



The Pursuit of Righteousness 203 

■workshop and arsenal, now sleeping under its eiderdown of mist. Or 
dead? When the day came, the queues would form at the Labour 
Exchanges, the groups gather at street corners to while away an empty 
day; the old red-brick factories with a hint of the chapel in their struc- 
ture, standing idle and empty, their obsolete machines rusting from 
disuse. By the time I got to Manchester dawn was just dimly breaking; 
in Cross Street nothing stirring, the last edition recording MacDonald’s 
great triumph already on its way. Would it ever revive, this birthplace 
of twentieth-century prosperity, this cradle of the affluent society, this 
technological kindergarten where the first faltering steps to an ever- 
lastingly expanding Gross National Product were taken, this beginning 
of the rainbow at whose end lay buried the crock of gold, the green stick, 
holding the secret of perpetual happiness for everyone? I thought not; 
it was a falling citadel, at the mercy of any marauder; the piled up debris 
of a greedy past, inhabited by ghosts demanding rights that were already 
lost and their fair share of wealth already squandered. I had resolved 
to go to where I thought a new age was coming to pass; to Moscow and 
the future of mankind. Crozier was all too ready to expedite my going; 
The Guardian's Moscow correspondent, William Henry Chamberlin, 
was going back to America for a lengthy stay, and I could take his place. 
So it was arranged. 

Kitty had gone to stay with her parents in Vevey, in one of those 
hotels overlooking the Lake of Geneva from whose terrace Mrs Dobbs 
could continue to add to her collection of paintings of the Castle of 
Chillon. I joined her there for a short holiday before we left for Moscow. 
Our son was already placed at a school in Windermere where he was to 
stay until we were settled in Moscow and could fetch him over. It was an 
arrangement hateful at the time, and seems even more hateful in 
retrospect. On the Channel boat I ran into Arthur Henderson who had 
been MacDonald’s Foreign Secretary. Refusing to follow him into the 
National Government, he had lost his seat in the recent General Elec- 
tion, and was now on his way to preside over the opening session of the 
Disarmament Conference in Geneva, having been elected President on 
Briand’s recommendation before the electoral debacle. A former Liberal 
Party agent, a lay preacher, an eminently respectable figure wearing a 
bowler hat, a decent overcoat and suit, his face was full of woe and be- 
wilderment. We walked up and down the deck together, and every now 
and again he paused, as though collecting his thoughts; took off his 
bowler and muttered more to himself than to me: ‘The unemployed in 
Burnley voted against me!’ It seemed like a perfect finale to all our re- 



204 The Green Stick 

volutionary postures and hopes; our renderings of 4 The Red Flag* and 
the ‘Internationale*, the canvassing, the addressing and the licking, the 
speaking and the cheering. All ending in one broken-hearted, bewildered 
little man taking off his bowler hat on a Channel steamer on his way to 
Geneva, as he remembered once again that the unemployed in Burnley 
had voted Tory. 



5 Who Whom? 



I no longer wished for a better world, because I was thinking of the 
whole of creation, and in the light of this clearer discernment I had 
come to see that, though the higher things are better than the lower, 
the sum of all creation is better than the higher things alone. 

- St Augustine 

kitty and I were confident that going to Russia would prove to be a 
definitive step, a final adventure. Our plan was, as soon as we were settled, 
to fetch our son over and live there for evermore. We wanted him, we 
told everyone with great emphasis, to grow up in a sane world with a 
future instead of in our crazy run-down one with only a past. What we 
were leaving behind, we felt, was derelict, moribund. A preposterous 
Ramsay MacDonald grimacing and posturing, contemptuously retained 
in office by his political adversaries for a little while longer so as to hold 
up to ridicule everything the political movement which made him Prime 
Minister in the first place, had ever stood for or aspired after. The de- 
pression hanging like a dark cloud over the industrial North, Lancashire 
especially; The Guardian under Crozier abysmally second-rate and flat; 
another war looming, which would surely come, and complete the moral 
and material destruction of the previous one. Where we were going, we 
assured ourselves and one another, there was hope and exhilaration. 
It was the wave of the future - a phrase even then current. 

Feeling so, we sold off pretty well everything we had, making, as it 
were, a bonfire of all our bourgeois trappings; my dinner-jacket, for 
instance, and Kitty’s only long dress, as well as some little trinkets and 
oddments, and most of our books, which we considered to be bourgeois 
literature of no relevance in a Workers* State. We even wound up our 
bank account, taking what money we had - some two hundred pounds, 
as I recall -in traveller’s cheques. What possible use would a bank 
account be in a country where bankers, along with industrialists, land- 



206 The Green Stick 

lords and priests, had all been eliminated? I took particular pleasure in 
jettisoning our marriage lines, and my ridiculous B.A. hood and cer- 
tificate; these being also, in my eyes, badges of bourgeois servitude, now 
to be discarded for ever. We were fully prepared to exchange our 
British passports for Soviet ones; indeed, we were looking forward to 
making the exchange. Nor did I have any anxiety about going off The 
Guardian's pay-roll and becoming dependent on freelance earnings; the 
arrangement Crozier had proposed. The connection with the paper 
would only be useful while I was fixing myself up with a job and some- 
where to live in the USSR; then, I looked forward to forgetting The 
Guardian's very existence. Finally, to my great delight, Kitty was 
pregnant again, so that our next child would be born a Soviet citizen. It 
all seemed wonderful. 

One last thing remained to be done; before sailing for Leningrad, we 
felt we must pay a farewell visit to Passfield to receive the blessing of the 
venerable couple under whose sponsorship we were venturing into the 
New Civilisation they had proclaimed. For us, it was the laying on of 
hands. ‘Sidney and 1/ Mrs Webb had told me, ‘have become ikons in 
the Soviet Union/ Kitty and I hoped to participate in this sanctity they 
had acquired by virtue of the fact that Lenin, while a political prisoner 
in Siberia, had translated their The Theory and Practice of Trade 
Unionism into Russian - an example of the quality of boredom being 
twice blessed. 

Everything at Passfield was just the same. Webb, complacently 
stroking his goatee beard, explained how under capitalism there might 
be as many as thirty or more varieties of fountain pen, whereas in the 
USSR we should find but one. A much more satisfactory arrangement. 
As he made the point, his bulbous eyes positively glowed behind the 
pince-nez. She, fluttering her hands like a mesmerist to shut him up, 
spoke about Man as consumer and Man as producer, and how under 
Socialism ever the twain should meet. He was seemingly delighted by 
the notion of reducing a plethora of pens to a single one, but she, it 
seemed to me, had no real interest in consuming and producing Man, 
and only addressed herself to the theme with the distracted over- 
emphasis of a sceptical Monsignor dispensing the Blessed Sacraments. 

The Soviet Ambassador, Sokolnikov, and his lady came to luncheon 
on the Saturday, arriving in a sleek black limousine driven by an 
Embassy chauffeur, he doubtless being, as I came to realise later, the 
GPU policeman in attendance. At the time, I just marvelled at how, as 
my mother would have put it, wonderfully superior he was, and 



Who Whom ? 207 

wondered how he would make out with the two Scottish maids, accus- 
tomed, as they were, to capitalist subservience. Actually, I don’t believe 
he addressed a single word to them, but just sat in the car, a still, in- 
inscrutable figure, until the time came to depart. 

Sokolnikov was a pasty-faced, uneasy looking man. At one point he 
had been concerned with stabilising the rouble, which greatly appealed 
to Webb, who tried, as far as I could judge without much success, to 
pump him on Soviet banking. He clearly hoped to hear that the same 
simplification prevailed in distributing cash in the USSR as in distribut- 
ing fountain pens. An important factor in the admiration of the Webbs 
and Shaw for the Soviet regime was what they considered to be its 
financial soundness and rectitude. Shaw was always going on about its 
budgetary surpluses in a world of deficit accounting, and the Webbs 
actually held some Soviet Government stock on which, they would 
complacently observe, the ten per cent interest was punctually paid. 
How far this stock represented a negotiable asset when they died, only 
their heirs, the Passfield Trust, and the governors of the London School 
of Economics, know; but it is possible to guess. 

Mme Sokolnikova was livelier altogether than her spouse; a large 
ebullient woman, dark and hairy, who, had she been English, might well 
have espoused the cause of family planning, and perhaps married a 
clergyman. If American, I see her more as a popular novelist in the style 
of Mrs Parkinson Keyes; or maybe an anthropologist exploring the 
sexual ways of Papuans in the manner of Margaret Mead. In the 
circumstances of our meeting, I found her rather attractive; there is, I 
fear, an incipient gigolo in my make-up, and I have been conscious 
occasionally of an unseemly taste for public ladies like millionairesses, 
and female racing-motorists, politicians, and champion show-jumpers. 
Amy Johnson’s rusty voice took my fancy in her flying days, as did Eva 
Peron, but not, I am happy to say, La Passionaria or the Duchess of 
Windsor. Mme Sokolnikova had already had one of her books - a collec- 
tion of profiles of revolutionary women, including Charlotte Corday - 
published in England, which, by a fortunate chance, I had read and 
reviewed in favourable terms in The Guardian . It was arranged that Kitty 
and I should call on the Sokolnikovs in Moscow, whither they were 
shortly returning, to be succeeded in London by Maisky, one of those 
indomitable survivors the Soviet regime throws up from time to time 
(Ilya Ehrenburg was another), who somehow managed to survive 
despite all the perils and dangers of life under Stalin. By writing 
occasional letters to The Times in support of the latest version of Party 



2o8 The Green Stick 



orthodoxy, Maisky even continues to have some sort of public existence, 
unlike more important figures like Molotov and Malenkov who, when 
they fall from power, get obliterated. 

We did go and see the Sokolnikovs at their flat in Moscow. The 
Purges were looming, and there had been rumours of his arrest. The 
poor fellow looked very nervous and shifty, and there was a noticeable 
greenish tinge in his sallow face. He kept glancing anxiously over his 
shoulder as though at some invisible intruder. With one of the most 
mirthless smiles I have ever seen, he remarked over tea that, if the 
capitalist press was to be believed, he was languishing in Lubianka 
Prison. Did he look like it? he asked, getting his teeth into a chocolate 
eclair. Alas, he did, and I was not surprised to hear, in due course, that 
he had been liquidated, not even being considered important enough 
for rehabilitation when the climate of opinion changed under Khrush- 
chev. She, too, disappeared for a twenty years’ sentence, but to every- 
one’s amazement reappeared, to resume her career as a woman-of- 
letters. Survival would seem to be the single enduring gift we humans 
possess, especially among the female of the species; providing the only 
sure foundation for Women’s Lib. 

After luncheon, we were joined in the course of the afternoon by Sir 
Stafford Cripps, another member of the Potter clan, accompanied by 
the chairman of his constituency (Bristol East) Labour Party, whose 
name Mrs Webb made little effort to discover. There was also present a 
grey-haired nondescript lady in sackcloth and gold chains from the 
Fabian Research Bureau. She must have had more audacity than her 
appearance suggested because she took one of Mrs Webb’s herbal 
cigarettes and smoked it - something I had never before seen anyone do. 
As usual, Mrs Webb disposed us about the room like a cricket captain 
arranging his field, and then the conversation got under way. We began 
with participatory democracy, which, the Webbs insisted, was perfectly 
exemplified in the system of representation laid down in the Soviet 
Constitution. As they elaborated upon this theme, I could see that 
Sokolnikov was trying to say something; his lips were moving and his 
hands gripping the sides of his chair. By the time he managed to get the 
words out against the Webbs* duet -like a muted trombone and a 
particularly shrill flute - he was understood to say that his country made 
no bones about being a . . . Even then he could not bring himself to say 
it in English. So he tried it in French ... a dictature . The word caused a 
stir even in French; Webb paused in mid-sentence, and then changed 
direction, going on to point out that, like the Roman Catholic Church, 



Who Whom? 209 

the Soviet system was hierarchical. This parallel with the Church, 
equating Commissars in the Politbureau with Cardinals in the Consis- 
tory, got over any awkwardness the Ambassador’s hasty remark might 
have occasioned. 

Cripps looked delighted; he stroked his jaw as counsel do when 
making an advantageous point in court. Dictature or dictatorship, it 
was all one to him. How is it, Dr Johnson asked, in Taxation no Tyranny , 
that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty coming from the drivers of 
slaves? How indeed? One might equally well ask how it is that those with 
the greatest aptitude for applauding the arbitrary exercise of power are 
most insistent in proclaiming the virtues of freedom. Cripps went on to 
explain that social democracy was now discredited, that what was needed 
was a revolutionary dictatorship enabling the workers to take over. Mrs 
Webb did not fancy being lectured by a nephew, especially in terms 
that, if only by implication, put her among the despised Social Demo- 
crats, rather than with the proletarian elect, and anyway suggested that 
her ideas were behind the times. Even so, Cripps was in the category of 
being ‘a very clever young man’, and earned enough at the bar to qualify 
for equal billing with her successful brothers-in-law. So she left him 
unrebuked, and there the matter rested. Sokolnikov, having made his 
point about the Dictature , relapsed into silence, and the Webbs turned 
their attention to Consumers’ Co-operatives, which ensured, they in- 
toned, that the interests of the consumer were adequately safeguarded 
as against those of the producer and the State. Cripps scarcely seemed to 
be listening; his thoughts were doubtless far away - on a barricade, Red 
Flag in hand, leading the oppressed to revolution and freedom. Stafford 
Egalit6. 

The Sokolnikovs left in the early evening; Cripps and his local party 
chairman shortly afterwards. Webb soon began to doze noisily in his 
chair, fulfilling Mrs Webb’s favourite dictum about him: ‘Sidney 
snores!’ She sat warming her hands at the fire, holding them out as 
though warding someone or something off. ‘It’s true,’ she said suddenly, 
a propos of nothing, ‘that in the USSR people disappear .’ She accent- 
uated the word, showing her teeth as she did so. Clearly, she would have 
been well content to promote the disappearance of tiresome people in the 
asme expeditious way, with no questions asked. Some of the more diffi- 
cult and obscurantist figures in local government, for instance. Andamong 
trade union leaders, no lack of candidates. Yes, people disappeared . She 
looked very unearthly just then, with her white hair and white face. Very 
unsubstantial. It was probably, I reflected, my positively last glimpse of 



210 The Green Stick 

her and of bourgeois life; and I wanted to fix the scene in my mind so 
that I should never forget it. Webb asleep in his arm-chair, grunting 
occasionally; the glowing fire, the sofa, the little tables and knick-knacks 
and photographs in silver frames. The warmth, the snugness; the wonder- 
ful insulation from what is harsh and bitter and inexorable. Those two 
Scottish maids sitting by their fire and in their own arm-chairs, but 
ready at any moment to spring into action, and make a hot drink or 
prepare a hot water-bottle. Mrs Webb hovering over it all, the genie 
escaped from the bottle; pronouncing a doom - that in the USSR people 
disappeared , as would we all, along with that room, that whole way of 
life. Set, scenery, actors and props, all due for disappearance. 

On the Sunday morning the Webbs came to the front door to see us 
off. It was an unusual attention; except in the case of particularly 
important visitors, adieus took place in the sitting-room. This was a 
special occasion; we were going to the USSR where they were ikons. 
Standing side by side, she looked ridiculously tall and thin, and he 
squat, almost a dwarf. As the ancient limousine lurched forward to take 
us to the station, they waved in unison. Standing behind them, also 
discreetly waving, we could see the two Scottish maids. So, from this 
warm, snug bourgeois nest we took off on our migratory flight, saying to 
ourselves with the monkish author of The Cloud of Unknowing : ‘Look 
now forwards, and let the backwards be.* 

Sailing down the Thames again, this time with Kitty beside me, in the 
Soviet ship Kooperatsia , there was the same sweet music I remembered 
from when I set sail for India - a prow piercing the water; a ship’s 
stealthily onward push as it followed its determined course. The sweet 
music of departure. This time I was on my way, not to tired imperial 
glory, but to the veritable future of mankind. Our ship’s Red Flag 
flying proudly at the very heart of London; within sight of Westminster 
and Honourable Members on their terrace; within sound of their division 
bell and Big Ben; the Unholy City, gathered by the Thames, harbouring, 
without knowing it, this crimson portent of the wrath to come. 

Kitty and I waited on deck as long as there was anything to see, and 
then explored the ship. Somehow, we expected it to be different from 
other ships, but apart from having a picture of Lenin and Stalin in the 
dining saloon where a P & 0 boat would have had one of King George V 
and Queen Mary, it seemed in no way peculiar. I even noticed that the 
ship’s engines had been made in Glasgow. It was, in fact, a pre-Revolu- 
tion ship that had been taken over by the Soviet authorities and re- 



Who Whom ? 21 1 

named. Our cabin was deep in the bowels; we had booked in the cheapest 
category, for economy’s sake, and also because it seemed appropriate. 
The more privileged passengers in the upper regions consisted mostly 
of a party of miscellaneous Leftist intellectuals, or, as they were later to 
be called, Fellow-Travellers, on their way to see for themselves what the 
world’s first Workers’ State was really like. They recalled lectures in 
Croydon with my father in the chair, and visits to our house afterwards. 
Several were already well on the way to becoming important personages; 
beneficiaries of the new enlightenment, honoured, comfortably off even; 
in due course, persistent pundits of the air. The Kooperatsia echoed 
with their resonant, donnish-demagogic voices; their tweedy suits and 
coloured ties were everywhere. They had the shambling gait, the 
roving eye, the air of being the elect or chosen ones, which I had come to 
associate with those who felt they knew the answers, and could steer 
us aright to peace, prosperity and the everlasting brotherhood of man. 

On their way to the USSR they were in a festive mood; like a cup-tie 
party on their way to a match, equipped with rattles, coloured scarves 
and favours. Each of them harbouring in his mind some special hope; 
of meeting Stalin, or, alternatively, of falling in with a Komsomolka, 
sparkling eyed, red scarf and jet black hair, dancing the carmagnole ; 
above all, with very enlightened views on sex, and free and easy ways. In 
any case, of equipping themselves with special, authoritative knowledge 
which would enable them to embellish their articles and lectures, and 
shut up hecklers with lordly data like: Dairy produce increased last year 
in the Ukraine by X per cent; slightly less in White Russia, but still well 
above the national average of Y per cent. Or: article PQR of the 
Criminal Code clearly states . . . Oh, to be in Russia, now that Stalin’s 
there. 

In their dealings with the crew and the stewards they were punc- 
tilious in cultivating an egalitarian attitude; the word ‘comrade* was 
often on their lips. What a relief it was, they seemed to be saying, not to 
have to cope with obsequiousness and servility on the part of the lower 
orders! In this new society, as most of them would shortly be tapping 
out on their typewriters, ‘there was an agreeable absence of cap-touching. 
One noticed a certain confident bearing among working men and women; 
a new social equality divorced from a worship and evaluation of success 
in money terms, and from deference to the man who has won a financial 
position above his fellows and shows it in his habits and dress and 
bearing . . * 

In order to fit in with this social climate it was obviously necessary to 



212 The Green Stick 

eschew tips, which anyway, we were given to understand, were con- 
sidered gross and ill-mannered, and, especially to the younger Soviet 
citizens, nurtured in the regime, quite inadmissible, if not incomprehen- 
sible. To settle the matter a meeting of passengers was called, presided 
over by one of the intellectuals with a particularly booming voice, at 
which it was decided that the best procedure would be to make a collec- 
tion for the crew and officers, and to spend it on books for the ship’s 
library. This was explained to the chief steward, who, as it seemed to 
me, failed to kindle at the suggestion. Perhaps he dreaded, not without 
reason, that some at least of the books provided would be works by the 
present company. To clinch the matter, and to show our good will and 
high spirits, it was further decided to present a pageant or charade for 
the diversion of the crew. The subject chosen was the Genesis story of 
the creation, with the booming intellectual as God, and a Montessori 
teacher from Leeds as the serpent. Such a theme, it was calculated, 
would conform with the anti-religious sentiments of our audience, and 
show them that, however bourgeois we might seem outwardly, at heart 
we were as proletarian and anti-religious as they were. 

When it came to the night, the performance seemed to please the 
players better than the audience, who for the most part sat woodenly in 
their seats, more bewildered than amused. God, it must be admitted, 
was somewhat elephantine in his antics; the serpent lacking in the deadly 
attractiveness which the Genesis original must be supposed to have 
possessed. It proved to be a mea culpa which quite failed to register 
with those for whose edification it had been intended; an unheeded act 
of abasement. The crew retaliated by offering a musical evening at 
which Stenka Razin and Ochi Chomye were sung; two songs that were 
to become all too familiar in the months ahead. One of the sorrows of 
life for a western journalist or diplomat in the USSR was the enormous 
repetitiveness of everything. Thus, there were veterans who had been 
forced to sit through Swan Lake on thirty or more ceremonial occasions. 
I myself sat through it five times; it seemed like fifty. 

These fellow-passengers provided my first experience of the progres- 
sive elite from all over the world who attached themselves to the Soviet 
regime, resolved to believe anything they were told by its spokesmen. 
For the most part, they were academics and writers -the clerks of 
Julien Benda’s La Trahison des clercs ; all upholders of progressive causes 
and members of progressive organisations, constituting a sort of 
Brechtian ribald chorus in the drama of the twentieth century. Ready at 
any moment to rush on to the stage, cheering and gesticulating. The fall 



Who Whom? 213 

guys of history; a western version of the devotees of Krishna who throw 
themselves under the wheels of the great Juggernaut. I was to speculate 
endlessly about them, rail against their credulities and imbecilities, 
ridicule their absurdities and denounce their servility before the naked- 
ness of Soviet power. The more so because I knew inwardly that I was 
one of them; in my heart, too, the same death-wish. 

It was perhaps because such thoughts had already begun to occur to 
me, or, more probably, because of a certain drabness in the ship itself 
and in the crew, an air of oppression which seemed to hang over it and 
them, that somehow or other I felt less confident than I had about the 
Soviet regime as an answer to my own and society’s problems. As we 
approached Leningrad my excitement at the thought of actually landing, 
and putting to the test all my hopes, was tinged with apprehension. 
This was intensified by an incident while we were at Hamburg, where 
we put in for a day to take on some cargo. I was loafing about on deck as 
the time of departure drew near when I noticed three men, arm in arm, 
coming up the gangway. The middle one was the ship’s doctor, whose 
face I knew, having observed it at times rather closely as being somehow 
like Chekhov’s. With the same kind of sparse beard, and loose, whim- 
sical, weak mouth; even with the same kind of spectacles fastened on the 
end of his long nose, and thin cigar drooping from his lips, the ash 
powdering his beard. There was also the fact that he was different from 
the crew, who all had what I came to recognise as Soviet faces; as 
characteristic as the equivalent American ones - rather grey and im- 
mobile, like lumps of stone on which features had been drawn, rather 
than living flesh. The doctor’s face was, on the other hand, mobile and 
European, and would have passed unnoticed in any cafe in Paris or 
Brussels or London. 

On this occasion he was obviously hopelessly drunk; his head lolled, his 
eyes were dead, his legs scarcely touched the ground. It was clear that 
without the support of his two companions he would have fallen down. 
They held him firmly; not tenderly, or in a comradely way, more in the 
manner of policemen. I had noticed them about the ship, too, as seeming 
not to be ordinary seamen or officers; yet obviously exercising authority. 
Like the Sokolnikovs’ chauffeur, they were doubtless GPU men, keeping 
an eye on everyone’s orthodoxy and correct Soviet behaviour. It seemed 
to me that once they had got the doctor to his berth things might go ill 
with him. In any case, the incident depressed me out of all proportion to 
its ostensible importance. I priggishly felt that Soviet ships’ doctors 
should not go ashore and get drunk like capitalist ones. Also, there was 



214 The Green Stick 

something Kafka-esque about the stance and relationship of the three 
of them which struck me as sinister; and as conflicting with the happier 
relationship between man and man over which we had so often cooed 
together at Passfield. 

I had the feeling that landing at Leningrad should be different from 
landing anywhere else; more like the arrival of Bunyan’s Pilgrim at the 
Heavenly City, with trumpets blowing, and shining ones waiting to 
welcome him. Actually, it was just like arriving anywhere; passports 
suspiciously examined, bags all opened and their contents gone over; 
then a final check to make sure that everything was in order. The 
custodians of entry and exit seem alike in every country and on every 
frontier. All the same, it was a wonderful feeling to be through the 
controls at last and at large in the USSR. Something I had dreamed about 
and longed for, and now at last it had come to pass. 

Leningrad seemed a battered, shabby place, with crumbling stucco, 
chipped pillars, cracked masonry, paintwork in sore need of renovation; 
yet nonetheless somehow beautiful in the sparkling sunshine. In the 
streets few vehicles, on the pavement grey anonymous crowds padding 
endlessly along; the one constant factor throughout the USSR. I had a 
feeling that the place must have been lately bombarded, with only a 
bright shell remaining; which doubtless explains why the memory of my 
first glimpse of Leningrad came so vividly into my mind during the 
Blitz in London. Likewise, going into New York on just such a glittering 
day, and getting my first glimpse of the city across the Triboro Bridge, 
its skyscrapers, too, looked like the bombed out remains of once stately 
buildings arbitrarily arranged to be some weird, monstrous, luminous 
Stonehenge. It recalled what Brecht wrote: ‘Long before the bombers 
appeared our cities were already uninhabitable . . . While we were still 
walking in our still upright cities our women were widows and our 
children orphans/ 

In Moscow we took up our quarters in the Nova Moskovkaya Hotel, 
newly built for Intourists who came and went all the time. Quite often 
hanging about the lobby was a man named Wicksteed, vaguely known 
to Kitty from her Bedales schooldays. He was a Walt Whitmanesque 
figure, in a corduroy suit, with a high colour, an untidy beard, watery 
eyes, and wearing sandals, who had, it seemed, steered a course from 
Blake’s Prophetic Books to Edward Carpenter’s Towards Democracy , 
taking in Havelock Ellis and Housman (Laurence rather than A.E.) on 
the way, and casting many a sympathetic backwards glance in the direc- 
tion of William Morris and even Ruskin. Towards Democracy turned 



Who Whom! 215 

out to be, as far as he was concerned, Towards Moscow, and there he 
stayed, sometimes with a burly Red Army soldier in tow; acting as a 
sort of unofficial tourist guide, glad to get a meal in the hotel restaurant 
and a drink or two in the hotel bar by way of remuneration. A bourgeois 
bum in Proletaria - spare a kopek, comrade! Broken down and pathetic, 
vodka-smelling, far from his native habitat of PEN Club meetings within 
sound of Sloane Square, and there’s wind on the Hampstead Heath, 
brother; but still more sympathetic to me than the booming intellectual 
playing God and the Montessori serpent. 

In order to start working as Guardian correspondent it was necessary 
to establish contact with the Press Department of the Soviet Foreign 
Office, housed, it turned out, in ornate gilt and red plush quarters un- 
changed from pre-Revolution days; more reminiscent in ddcor of the 
Egyptian University, or even the Vatican, than of a Workers’ State as I 
had envisaged it. After a wait, I was shown into the office of the head of 
the Department, a youngish-looking man named Oumansky with 
crinkly hair and a lot of gold teeth. He later became Soviet Ambassador 
in Washington, and was killed in an air crash on his way to Mexico, to 
the undisguised joy of pretty well everyone who had worked as a news- 
paper correspondent in Moscow. He greeted me affably, complimented 
me on my connection with the Webbs who, he said, were held in great 
honour in the USSR, and spoke of The Guardian in the highest terms as 
being the newspaper above all others in the capitalist world which gave 
a true and fair picture of Soviet conditions and achievements. He felt 
sure I would maintain and enhance this reputation, and looked forward 
to our continuing collaboration. The gold teeth gleamed as he summoned 
up a toothy smile. 

Being a newspaper correspondent in Moscow, I found, was, in itself, 
easy enough. The Soviet press was the only source of news; nothing 
happened or was said until it was reported in the newspapers. So, all I 
had to do was to go through the papers, pick out any item that might be 
interesting to readers of the Guardian, dish it up in a suitable form, get it 
passed by the censor at the Press Department, and hand it in at the 
telegraph office for dispatch. One might, if in a conscientious mood, 
embellish the item a little with back references or some extra statistics, 
easily procured from the Commercial Attach^ at the British Embassy, 
where also the Press was meticulously gone through and analysed. Or 
perhaps, fancifully, sow in a little local colour, usually unobjectionable to 
the censor. Blow it up a little, or render it down a little according to the 
exigencies of the new situation. The original item itself was almost 



21 6 The Green Stick 

certainly untrue or grotesquely distorted One’s own deviations, there- 
fore, seemed to matter little; only amounting to further falsifying what 
was already false. 

This bizarre fantasy was very costly and elaborate and earnestly 
promoted. Something gets published in Pravda (meaning Truth); say, 
that the Soviet Union has had a bumper wheat harvest - so many poods 
per hectare. (It is always preferable to use foreign measures where 
possible.) There is no means of checking; the Press Department men 
don’t know, and anyone who does is far, far removed from the attentions 
of foreign journalists. Soviet statistics have always been almost entirely 
fanciful, though not the less seriously regarded for that. When the 
Germans occupied Kiev in the 1939-45 war they got hold of a master 
Five-Year Plan, showing what had really been produced and where. 
Needless to say, it was quite different from the published figures. This 
in no way affected credulity about such figures subsequently, as put out 
in Russia, or even in China; any more than the repeated errors of public 
opinion polls affect the seriousness with which they are received. Truly, 
those who take to statistics will perish by statistics. 

So we take the bumper harvest as having happened. The more 
ebullient drum it up a little - ‘Down in the Ukraine husky girls and 
women hoisting wheat . . . Village markets flowing with eggs, fruit, 
poultry, vegetables, milk and butter at prices far lower than in Mos- 
cow . . .* The more sedate tone it down a little - ‘The figure should be 
received with some caution in the light of present Soviet imports of 
grain, but without any doubt the collectivisation policy is beginning to 
pay off . . In any case, a statistic has been planted, and makes its 
appearance in tables, graphs, learned discourses, becoming part of the 
world’s wisdom. In the beginning was the Lie, and the Lie was made 
news and dwelt among us, graceless and false. 

I have a pile of the blacks of some of the messages I sent to The 
Guardian from Moscow: 

DISCOVERY ANNOUNCED BY OGPU OF COUNTER REVOLU- 
TIONARY ORGANISATION IN AGRICULTURE AND STATE FARM 
COMMISSARIATS PARTICULARLY IN UKRAINE NORTH CAUCA- 
SUS AND WHITE RUSSIA STOP NEWSPAPER REPORT SAYS 
ORGANISATION CONSISTED MOSTLY EXBOURGEOIS STATE 
OFFICIALS COLON MAJORITY CONFESSED GUILTY SABOTAGE 
WITH VIEW UNDERMINING SOVIET AGRICULTURAL ECONOMY 
AND SPREADING FAMINE . . . 

FULL DETAILS 1 93 3 ECONOMIC PROGRAMME AND BUDGET 



Who Whom ? 217 

PUBLISHED TO-DAY AS APPROVED CENTRAL EXECUTIVE COM- 
MITTEE STOP IN INDUSTRY GENERALLY GROSS INCREASE ON 
LAST YEAR PRODUCTION SIXTEEN POINT FIVE PER CENT 
COLON ALLOCATION THREE MILLIARD ROUBLES TRANSPORT 
DEVELOPMENT AND TWO MILLIARDS AND HALF SOCIAL SER- 
VICES AND HOUSING COLON STATE FARM OUTPUT PRECISELY 
ESTIMATED DASH FOR INSTANCE MILLION HUNDRED AND 
FIFTY THOUSAND PIGS THIS YEAR STOP ESTIMATED 
REVENUE THIRTY FIVE MILLIARDS AND EXPENDITURE THIRTY 
THREE MILLIARDS OF WHICH TWO AND QUARTER MILLIARDS 
ON FIGHTING SERVICES . . . 

To the last figure for military expenditure I added in brackets 
SUGGEST TELLING this marines. The significance of the addition 
escaped the censor’s eye; whether it caught that of The Guardian chief 
sub I never heard. 

I was still thinking of such work as merely provisional, and it had 
been on the tip of my tongue to tell Oumansky that I was not really a 
foreign correspondent but a comrade who had come to the USSR to 
help build Socialism. Somehow, he did not seem to be the man, nor was 
the occasion apposite; he looked so like a bank manager that he put me 
more in a mood to ask for an overdraft than for citizenship in the 
Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Subsequently, I could feel my resolution 
ebbing away, and basic questions about the whole validity of the Soviet 
regime began to arise insistently in my mind. These doubts I wrestled 
with while walking round the Red Square or passing through Lenin’s 
tomb; a spectacle of which I never tired. The little man in his glass case, 
pink head resting on a red cushion, beard carefully trimmed, small hands 
clenched, finger-nails daintily manicured; the khaki tunic with its single 
decoration seeming to have nothing inside it - no body; just a head, and 
that empty, the brain having been removed for separate examination 
and preservation. Was he not the very materialist conception of history 
in person? An empty skull embalmed in a vacuum to last for ever. Made 
immortal. All day long there were people filing past, mostly peasants; 
they just stared at him without showing any signs of emotion, though 
once I saw an old peasant woman cross herself. Heaven knows what that 
signified, if anything. For a short while he shared the tomb with Stalin, 
his successor. I saw Stalin there, as it happened, during his short co- 
occupancy. With his thick black moustache he looked almost jovial by 
comparison with Lenin. Then he was turned out, and Lenin again left 
in his solitary glory. 



2i 8 The Green Stick 

I never missed a chance of walking round the Red Square; fascinated 
by the massive Kremlin buildings, so extravagant a fortress, now hous- 
ing, not an anointed king or emperor, not, like the White House, an 
elected President, nor, like the Vatican, a Pope chosen from among a 
College of Cardinals, but the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. This was 
authority in terms of a quite new abstraction, embodying a claim far 
transcending Louis XIV's L'Etat , c'est mot. Le peuple y c'est moi\ that's 
what the ruler in the Kremlin claimed for himself. All the toiling masses 
everywhere, their will, their purpose, their very being, embodied in this 
one man, who spoke and acted, and even lived, on their behalf. And 
everyone else - kulaks, White Guards, Black Hundreds, down to Mr 
Pooters of the Diary of a Nobody , adding up their figures, puffing at their 
pipes, and maybe dropping a fishing line into the water on a Sunday 
afternoon - must be abolished. Then, at last, when this was accom- 
plished, history would be over, and paradise have come to earth, and the 
Dictatorship of the Proletariat, in the person of the man in the Kremlin, 
reign for evermore. 

The Red Flag flying above the Kremlin was illuminated at night; a 
little pool of blood suspended in the darkness. This was the true image 
of the Revolution; the mysticism of power, equivalent of the mysticism 
of sex in the other part of the world. Power versus sex. What I was 
looking for in the USSR - liberty, equality, fraternity - was irrelevant; 
just as the happiness Americans were under a statutory obligation to 
pursue, was irrelevant. The Knout or the Phallus - in any such contest, 
surely the knout must win. Opposite the Kremlin the onion domes of a 
sometime cathedral formed weird swollen shadows against the sky. Now 
it had become an anti-God Museum, with a great pendulum swinging 
to and fro to demonstrate the force of gravity in refutation of claims 
made on behalf of any divinity purporting to shape our ends. There were 
also fossilised saints on display, once fraudulently claimed to have been 
miraculously preserved against the ravages of time. Was the swinging 
pendulum, I asked myself, more god-like than the God it confuted? 
And that other contemporary saint across the way, preserved in his glass 
case - was he less fraudulent than the fossilised saints? The whole scene 
seemed abstract; like one of those models set up on army intelligence 
courses to demonstrate how a battle should be fought. But a battle 
between whom? About what? 

For comfort I turned, as usual, to the streets, where the endless 
stream of anonymous people were somehow companionable, as the 
pendulum god and the refrigerated saint were not Grey-faced; as 



Who Whom ? 219 

winter came on, in padded coats and felt boots, their footfall mysteri- 
ously silent in the snow -they, too, seemed to be coming from no- 
where and making for nowhere. Just drifting inscrutably along. There 
was little to look at in the shops except wooden cheeses and cardboard 
intimations of plenty to come. No neon lights, no spelt out pleasures; 
no whiff of flesh or snatch of music as a swing-door opened and shut. 
AH drab and grey and restrained. And yet I had a feeling, stronger than 
I can possibly convey, that what was happening in Moscow must 
happen everywhere. That it was the focal point or pivot of the drama of 
our times, whose essential pattern was being shaped there. That these 
blank faces processing noiselessly through Moscow’s blank streets were 
mankind processing through the twentieth century. 

So it has proved to be. The Revolution has triumphed in an unex- 
pected way, its ferment working rather through history than through the 
minds and hearts of men; its enemies’ citadel surrendering, and the 
garrison opening the gates and putting out white flags, without any need, 
for a siege or an assault. Jericho’s walls tumbling down of their own 
decay before any trumpet sounded. So, the priests have chosen them- 
selves to turn their churches into anti-God museums; and the image of 
our well-being and our plenty is shown in living colour on the television 
screen, like the wooden cheeses and the cardboard plenty in the Moscow 
shops. Above all, there were the besprizorne\ the uncared for, or wild ones. 
These were children who had survived on their own, without parents or 
anyone else to look after them, from the famine and civil war of the twen- 
ties. Going about in packs, barely articulate or recognisably human, with 
pinched animal faces, tangled hair and empty eyes. I saw them in 
Moscow and Leningrad, clustered under bridges, lurking in railway 
stations, suddenly emerging like a pack of wild monkeys; then scattering 
and disappearing. I was to see them again in years to come on campuses 
anywhere between the Berlin Wall and the Pacific coast of America; 
waifs of plenty, spoilt children of affluence, graduate Calibans, with the 
same tangled hair and animal faces; likewise barely articulate, barely 
human. 



Kitty and I continued to live in the Nova Moskovkaya, while making 
desultory efforts to find other accommodation. This involved visiting 
numerous apartment blocks where rentable rooms were allegedly avail- 
able. They invariably turned out to be part of a room, with, at best, the 
possibility of hanging a blanket to curtain off the portion offered us, and 
the use of corporate cooking and washing facilities. I have often regretted 



220 The Green Stick 

that we did not have a go at living in this way, which was how the great 
majority of Soviet citizens lived. With Kitty increasingly pregnant, 
however, and the necessity I was under to do a lot of typing, it seemed as 
though it would have been an impossible arrangement. Our quest did at 
any rate give us a notion of what housing conditions were really like in 
Moscow. Only important officials like the Sokolnikovs and rich writers 
like Ehrenburg, enjoyed the luxury of apartments to themselves. Ehren- 
burg’s flat actually had some Impressionist paintings - otherwise banned 
in the USSR -hanging in it. He also had a country residence near 
Moscow where, when I once visited him, he showed me with great pride 
a plant in his greenhouse that had been presented to him by the Queen 
Mother of Belgium. Later, we went for a stroll, and he pointed out to 
me nostalgically the house in which a rich merchant named Morosov 
had lived, entertaining the revolutionary intelligentsia like himself 
there at elegant evening soirees, and arranging amateur presentations of 
Chekov’s plays; subsequently committing suicide. 

Each morning a Russian woman named Klavdia Lvovna came to give 
Kitty and me a Russian lesson, and to read over the newspapers with 
me. She was a person of indeterminate age; she might have been forty 
or twenty, there was no telling. In ordinary circumstances one might 
have taken her for a governess or lady’s companion. She had a high, 
piping voice and the nebulous colouring and dry texture of someone 
who has faded without ripening. There was something very ludicrous, 
and even at times vaguely tragic, in her high piping voice reading over 
to me in halting English the turgid, portentous, and often inflammatory 
sentences of some Pravda or Izvestia article. Like playing ‘Land of 
Hope and Glory’ on a piccolo. Thus, she would begin: ‘Comrade Stalin, 
addressing the Central Committee yesterday, declared that the world had 
never before seen so powerful and authoritarian a regime as the Soviet 
regime, or so powerful and authoritarian a party as our Bolshevik 
Party . . .’ As she read one, she often faltered, appalled, and perhaps also 
frightened, at so unimportant and timid a person as herself getting 
involved in these weighty, explosive matters; then would summon up 
her courage and resolution to continue: ‘Communists go on hunting for 
kulaks with beastly faces, red necks, harsh voices and guns like those on 
our posters; but present-day kulaks are quiet, sweet, almost holy men 
sitting inside collective farms as managers, secretaries, etc., leading 
village communists by the nose . . .* 

She had to read it over again slowly while I tapped it out on my type- 



Who Whom? 221 

writer for the delectation of Guardian readers. Poor Klavdia Lvovna 
had no concern with kulaks, whether red-necked or quiet and sweet; it 
was all beyond her. Her interest lay in a few old dog-eared Russian 
classics she had managed to keep - Gogol, Goncharov, Lermontov - 
and the clandestine practice of Russian Orthodox Christianity. She 
would not accept any money for her services, but took payment in food, 
which I was able to get from a special shop for diplomats and journalists 
where one could buy for roubles more or less anything one wanted. 
Later, it was abolished in favour of Torgsin shops which only accepted 
foreign currency or the equivalent in jewels or precious metals. Their 
windows were full of otherwise unobtainable foods - hams and cheeses 
and butter - to induce Soviet citizens to bring out their secret hoards, or 
solicit money from their relatives and friends abroad. When they suc- 
cumbed, it quite often happened that they were arrested for hoarding 
or having contacts with foreigners. 

When Klavdia Lvovna got to know me better she told me that the 
food I gave her was passed on to a nun who, though her order had long 
ago been dissolved, still continued to observe her vows and engage in 
works of charity. Somehow this mm managed to send on the food she 
got from Klavdia Lvovna to fellow-nuns and other religious serving 
sentences in labour camps. Now I feel remorse that I did not help 
Klavdia Lvovna more; I may even have got her into trouble by the 
things I wrote after I left the USSR. Unfortunately, I never liked her; 
there was something mousy and prim and - absurdly enough in that 
particular setting - even snobbish about her which irritated me. Most of 
the translators and secretaries of the other foreign journalists in Moscow, 
I may add, were cast in a very different stamp. Blousy, brassy Red 
geisha girls; wearing unproletarian silk stockings, bras and underwear 
specially imported for them by their bosses, sometimes in diplomatic 
bags. Reputedly easy bedfellows who compensated for their deviant 
capitalistic ways by reporting regularly what they saw and heard to the 
GPU. 

The housing situation was just becoming critical for Kitty and me - 
we were under notice to leave the Nova Moskovkaya - when we had the 
good fortune to make the acquaintance of Herr Schmidt, a German 
business man, at a party at the French Embassy. Such parties took place 
at one embassy or another almost every evening, and reminded me very 
much of the British Raj; more or less the same guests turned up at all 
of them - and one had the same feeling, as in India, of being a little 
privileged isolated community having practically no contact with the 



222 The Green Stick 

surrounding country and its people. Ideological sahibs. Herr Schmidt 
was very well turned out, gold wrist-watch on hairy wrist, sharp close- 
set eyes and a rather forlorn mouth lurking in the shadow of a large nose. 
When we told him of our difficulty in finding anywhere to live, he said 
that he had a dacha not far from Moscow which he only used at week- 
ends, and that we were welcome to stay there if we wished to while we 
were looking for suitable accommodation in Moscow. It seemed like a 
wonderful offer, and we accepted at once. Herr Schmidt kindly said 
that he would drive us down the next day, which he duly did, arriving 
at our hotel to pick us up in a smart convertible with a female beside 
him whom he presented as ‘Die Kleine\ We never knew her by any 
other name; she had bleached hair, long coloured finger-nails, and a 
body so slender that it seemed surprising that she could, when ab- 
solutely necessary, hold herself erect. At the dacha she spent most of the 
time playing jazz records imported from Germany, and smoking 
cigarettes in a long holder. Herr Schmidt said that his wife lived in 
Vienna, and did not find the Russian climate suited to her. It was a 
set-up which would have been perfectly appropriate anywhere in the 
world, and Kitty and I endlessly speculated as to what business could 
put Herr Schmidt in so advantageous a situation. ‘Chemicals/ I said, 
having vaguely gathered something of the sort from Herr Schmidt 
himself, but Kitty insisted it was just money. It was indeed the case, at 
that time, that foreign currency was sought after in Moscow with par- 
ticular assiduity. We had not, after all, escaped from the kingdom of 
money. There are, I have discovered, certain constants in life which 
recur in all circumstances, Herr Schmidt and Die Kleine being one of 
them. 

Herr Schmidt’s dacha, which now became our home, was at Kliasma. 
It was a wooden house, rather like a Swiss chalet. There were other 
similar dachas nearby, but mostly already shut up for the winter. The 
pine woods round about had many long straight paths through them 
which I knew, as soon as I saw them, would be my walks. In among the 
pine trees, too, there was a large clearing obviously intended for 
recreational purposes, littered with cardboard slogans about building 
socialism. These had already begun to look rather disconsolate in the 
cold wind, with dead leaves swirling round them. It was a local version of 
the parks of culture and rest of which such a feature was made in taking 
tourists round Moscow, and where, despite the priggish name, on warm 
evenings lovers found a sanctuary though whether this usage came into 
the category of culture or of rest I never determined. On some days 



Who Whom? 223 

Klavdia Lvovna came out to Kliasma, or I would go into Moscow on the 
electric train; preposterously crowded as all public transport was in the 
USSR. One just clung on where one could. I was wryly amused to 
find a picture of this train in a publication called The USSR in 
Construction , captioned: ‘Eager Soviet Workers on their Way to the 
Capital*. 

One way and another I managed to send off some articles and 
messages. The messages, of course, had to be stamped in the Press 
Department before the telegraph office would accept them. One took 
them in to be censored, like taking an essay to one’s tutor at Cambridge; 
watching anxiously as they were read over for any frowns or hesitations, 
dreading to see a pencil picked up to slash something out. Later, the 
arrangement was changed, so that the journalists just turned in their 
messages, which were then processed in the Press Department and sent 
off without any further reference to them. It amounted to a sort of 
computerisation, in keeping with the exigencies of a technological 
society. 

In my time, there were three censors, all Jews-Podolski, the most 
intelligent, with sad eyes and a thin pointed beard; Nehman, looking 
like a Rabbi, with a fringe of beard all round his face, and Ehrens, a 
ludicrous figure who had been in Magnetogorsk in some capacity or 
other, as a result of which he affected top boots and a rough pioneering 
manner which ill became his plump soft person. They all three dis- 
appeared into the labour camps in due course, never to be seen again. I 
was sorry about Podolski, who was really a very nice, intelligent, 
amusing man. Before the Revolution he had lived abroad, and one could 
even argue with him when he proposed censoring something. I remem- 
ber on one occasion his shaking his head and saying to me: ‘You can’t 
say that because it’s true.’ It seemed like a basic twentieth-century text 
I always liked to get him for my censor whenever I could; Nehman 
(described by Mrs Webb as ‘that very clever young man’) patiently and 
meticulously trod the Party Line. Ehrens was an oaf. The fact that they 
were all Jews had no particular significance. With the liquidation of the 
Russian bourgeoisie, Jews who had good revolutionary credentials, from 
Litvinov downwards, provided almost the only available personnel for 
Foreign Office jobs. The only non-Jew I can recall off-hand among 
Foreign Office personnel was a certain Fleurinski, the Chef-de-Protocol; 
a caricature of a pre-Revolutionary aristocrat, straight out of Dead Souls , 
He, too, was liquidated; not for being a class enemy, or a capitalist- 
imperialist running dog, but for pederasty when - to the great distress 



224 Th e Green Stick 

of, among others, Andr6 Gide-the earlier permissive attitude was 
reversed, and harsh penalties re-imposed against the practice. 

Articles one could sometimes send by a diplomatic bag, which, of 
course, eliminated all censorship. The British were not particularly 
helpful in this respect, but other embassies were more accommodating. 
It was an article sent by this means - actually about the Soviet mania for 
discovering sabotage and treachery on every hand - that led to my first 
rebuke from Oumansky. He called me to his office, and there he sat 
looking very grave with the offending article on his desk in front of 
him. This will never do, he seemed to be saying, shaking his head and 
showing his gold teeth; and from you of all peoplel Writing in the sacred 
columns of the Manchester Guardian\ With the Webbs* aureole shining 
about your headl He found particularly offensive my remark that one 
could say of sabotage in the USSR what Voltaire said of God - that if it 
did not exist it would be necessary to invent it. Somehow bringing 
Voltaire, a revolutionary hero, into my squalid argument made the 
offence worse in his eyes. This time, he indicated, a rebuke would 
suffice, but if anything of the kind occurred again, more serious con- 
sequences would follow. 

I swallowed the admonition as best I might. The Soviet authorities 
were able to control foreign newsmen almost as rigorously as they did 
their own. They had perforce to live and work in the USSR under the 
constant threat of losing their visas. If this happened, their jobs auto- 
matically came to an end, which in most cases was something they wished 
to avoid. Also, any foreigner resident in the USSR was vulnerable, in the 
sense that just going about and displaying ordinary curiosity, in Soviet 
terms laid one open to a plausible charge of espionage. Then again, we 
all changed money on the black market, likewise an offence under 
Soviet law. The official rate of exchange was so unrealistic that it 
made living costs utterly exorbitant, whereas the black market rate - 
in my time something like two hundred roubles to the pound - was 
decidedly advantageous, and easily obtainable at some of the smaller 
Consulates. One would come away with great wedges of notes loosely 
wrapped in newspaper like fried fish. Add to this that most foreign 
correspondents, separated from their wives, acquired a Russian mistress 
of one sort or another who, if not planted on them by the GPU, was 
bound to report their doings and transactions. This provided a ready 
means of exerting pressure on them. Thus, one way and another, they 
were not free agents, and the messages they sent had to be slanted 
accordingly. 



Who Whom? 225 

Newspaper managements and broadcasting agencies have nonetheless 
been ready to pay out large sums of money to procure this tainted news 
just in order to be able to say it came from Our Own Correspondent in 
Moscow. The image is, as always, preferred to the reality. Looking back, 
I can recall only one sentence I telegraphed from Moscow which was 
wholly true. It may even be the only wholly true sentence ever to be 
telegraphed from Moscow. This was when I was temporarily standing in 
for the correspondent of an American news agency, and received a cable 
asking for the Soviet man-in-the-street’s reactions to the lavish scale of 
entertaining in Soviet embassies abroad. Without thinking I replied: 
man-in-street’s reaction strong desire get nearest 
buffet. Podolski passed the message with a twinkle in his eye. Such 
twinkles, I fear, were what cost him his life. 

Our life at Kliasma was very happy. Moscow and the Dictatorship of 
the Proletariat seemed far away; as did the little bearded latter-day saint 
in his glass case. The great pendulum demonstrating the force of gravity 
and confuting the existence of God, continued to swing monotonously, 
but not for us. I had started work on a novel about a liberal newspaper 
in the north of England ( Picture Palace ), and managed to turn out 
enough casual material about the USSR to feel that I was earning our 
keep. A very nice Volga-German woman, Lena, looked after the dacha; 
Herr Schmidt and Die Kleine came at week-ends, when the gramophone 
played, reminding us of that other cinematic world we had left behind 
us, which seemed even farther away than the Kremlin. We took walks 
in the woods, and smiled at children playing, and felt, as we hadn’t in 
Moscow, that we were living in a country rather than a regime. Then, 
suddenly, Kitty got ill, developing a very high temperature. 

Herr Schmidt very kindly brought a German doctor, Dr Taubkin, to 
see her; a little gnome-like man who looked vaguely deformed - a near 
hunchback, with bright eyes and a soft, purring voice. He pulled a long 
face over Kitty’s temperature, and after his examination - very deli- 
cately done; taking a white cloth out of his bag to put over her chest while 
he sounded her - he said she had typhus or paratyphus, the latter being a 
milder, but still dangerous, form of the same virus. When he told Kitty 
what was the matter with her, all she wanted to know was whether the 
child in her womb would be harmed. Reassured on this point, she closed 
her eyes again. There was nothing to be done except keep her in bed, 
and give her lots of water to drink and occasional enemas. In any case, 
medicaments were rare and difficult to come by. I asked Dr Taubkin 
anxiously whether she should go to hospital. A look of unspeakable 

C.W.T.— p 



226 The Green Stick 



horror spread over his gnomish face, and he crossed himself; otherwise 
making no reply. I used to recall his response to my question when I 
read articles by eminent doctors expatiating upon the excellence of the 
hospitals and public health service in the USSR. 

For the next days I forgot everything except looking after Kitty. The 
thought that she might die filled me with desolation. All our quarrels 
and jealousies and harsh sayings and infidelities dissolved away; and all 
I saw in the universe was her flushed face, very youthful looking in its 
sickness, very alert and resolute, picked out as though spot-lit in the 
midst of an immense darkness. If she should die! A secondary terror 
was that I might catch the illness, and so be unable to look after her. 
What would happen then? Inevitably, I thought the symptoms were 
unmistakably developing, and secretly took my own temperature; 
positively dismayed, absurdly enough, to find that it was normal. 
Kitty’s mattress was intolerably uncomfortable, so I gathered others in 
the dacha and piled them on it. Die Kleine, when she came at the week- 
end, very sweetly made no complaint about losing hers. 

I slept on the floor beside Kitty’s bed, waking up from time to time to 
look at her, taking her temperature far more often than was necessary; 
childishly enraged when it remained high, and equally childishly up- 
lifted when it dipped down. In the morning I washed her as well as I 
could, very gently when I came to the swollen belly, and combed her 
hair. For an enema we had only rather crude sunflower oil, but I managed 
with this, experiencing a kind of blissfulness in the process. We had 
with us the Everyman edition of Shakespeare's Tragedies (I must, in 
jettisoning books before we left Manchester, have given this volume a 
non-bourgeois imprimatur), and I read aloud to her Hamlet and 
Cymbeline. In the evening, when Lena was in the dacha, I took a walk in 
the pine woods, up and down the straight paths. For the time being all 
my professional journalistic interest in the regime had evaporated; how 
many hours people worked, their real wages, rent, rations, whether the 
Consumers’ Co-operatives, so dear to Mrs Webb, functioned success- 
fully or not. My mind had momentarily stopped working in that sort of 
way. It just suddenly seemed to me that Russia was a beautiful place - 
these pine trees, dark against the snow which had now begun to fall, the 
sparkling stars so far, far away, the faces of the Russians I met and 
greeted, these also so beautiful, so clumsy and so kind. Tovarichl - it 
meant something, after all. Brother! 

In the woods there was a little church, of course disused now. The 
fronts of such churches, like the Greek ones, are painted with bright 



Who Whom? 227 

colours; blues bluer than the bluest sky, whites whiter than the whitest 
snow. Someone - heaven knows who - had painted up the one in the 
Kliasma woods. Standing in front of this unknown painter’s handiwork, 
I blessed his name, feeling that I belonged to the little disused church 
he had embellished, and that the Kremlin with its scarlet flag and dark 
towers and golden spires was an alien kingdom. A kingdom of power 
such as the Devil had in his gift, and offered to Christ, to be declined by 
him in favour of the kingdom of love. I, too, must decline it, and live in 
the kingdom of love. This was another moment of perfect clarification, 
when everything fitted together in sublime symmetry; when I saw clearly 
the light and the darkness, freedom and servitude, the bright vistas of 
eternity and the prison bars of time. I went racing back over the snow 
to K, breathing in the dry icy air in great gulps of thankfulness. 

The next day I went into Moscow in quest of a bedpan. It happened 
also to be the anniversary of the October Revolution, and I had a press 
pass for the parade in the Red Square. The only possible place where I 
might find a bedpan, Herr Schmidt had told me, was in the commission 
shops; a sort of Soviet version of pawn shops, where the relics of the old 
Russian bourgeoisie brought their family treasures - ikons, pieces of 
furniture, books, stamp collections, Czarist medals even, anything that 
could possibly have a value - to exchange them for money to pay taxes 
and procure necessities. They were a great haunt of visiting Intourists, 
especially Americans, who eagerly poked about, looking for a bargain - 
Rasputin’s breviary, a sometime duchess’s fan, an ikon from some ancient 
monastery in remote Turkistan, to be carried away across the Atlantic 
and proudly displayed alongside wedding groups and college graduation 
trophies. The commission shops were recognised as capitalistic enclaves, 
their interiors dusty and shadowy as befitted such alien establishments 
in a Workers’ State. They were tolerated as a means of relieving In- 
tourists of their Valuta - that magical incantation for foreign currency, 
breathed in one’s ear at restaurants or when making a theatre booking, 
like an Ave Maria, to find out whether one proposed to pay in real or 
ersatz money. 

When my turn came to be attended to, it was obvious that the shop- 
man assumed I was a seller rather than a buyer. He asked me arrogantly 
what I wanted, clearly anxious to hurry on to the more agreeable and 
rewarding business of Valuta transactions. The mistake doubtless arose 
as a result of my appearance, which did not at all suggest an affluent 
foreigner. I was wearing a short black leather jacket with a fur collar 
bought in an army surplus store in Manchester, dating back, as I was 



228 The Green Stick 

told, to General Ironside’s force at Archangel at the time of the Allied 
Intervention in 1918. It was not a stylish or elegant garment. When I 
explained in my halting Russian that I wanted a bedpan for a sick wife, 
and that I would pay sterling, his interest kindled a little, and he pro- 
duced a porcelain object which, if not exactly a bedpan, could be made to 
serve the same purpose. It was wrapped up for me in an old issue of 
Pravda ; I paid in Valuta, and we parted amicably. 

I went on to visit Cholerton, who at that time was still News Chronicle 
correspondent, before he joined the Daily Telegraph . He was far and 
away the nicest and most intelligent of the foreign journalists in Moscow, 
habitually stretched out on a couch, having a lung infection which made 
him subject to sudden temperatures; often with a bottle of red Caucasian 
wine beside him. He had a way of lining up bottles in the morning for the 
day’s consumption. With his untidy beard, incessant conversation, wide- 
ranging, inconstant but scintillating mind, he was the very image of the 
Russian intellectual as portrayed by Dostoevsky. I once asked Podolski 
why, in view of the fact that Cholerton never bothered to hide his 
loathing and contempt for the Soviet regime, he was on the whole so 
tolerantly regarded, and always given his re-entry visa, when other 
ostensibly far more sympathetic reporters were persecuted and expelled. 
They were indulgent towards him, Podolski explained, because they 
liked him. He reminded them irresistibly of the good old days of their 
exile, when they lived penuriously in Geneva or London, arguing and 
quarrelling together, in and out of the British Museum Library, playing 
chess in cates, bringing out obscure revolutionary sheets, splitting and 
re-splitting into ever smaller factions over minute doctrinal differences. 
Ah, too happy, happy times! Podolski seemed to be saying. I could see 
that Cholerton fitted perfectly into the scene, and that his detestation of 
of the regime somehow expressed theirs. He, as it were, hated it on their 
behalf, and so his presence was comforting. When they had all been shot 
by Stalin, this consideration no longer applied, and Cholerton’s visa 
was at last withdrawn. He finally decamped to the Riviera, that last 
refuge of rebellious hearts, where I have continued to visit him from 
time to time, always with delight. 

His household in Moscow consisted of a very sweet Russian wife, 
Katerina Georgevna, and their little daughter Katya, a sharp-tongued, 
aggressive secretary, Natalia Dmitrievna, who looked after his affairs, 
and numerous domestics and hangers-on. I felt happier there than any- 
where else. He lived in an ordinary ramshackle Soviet apartment house, 
but his free-ranging intelligence, unpackaged in the ideologies of the age, 



Who Whom? 229 

irradiated the shabby room; as did a set of Stations of the Cross by 
some Ukrainian peasant artist he had somehow acquired. I remember 
them as being very beautiful in their strength and simplicity. He 
had neither the temperament nor the inclination to be a journalist; least 
of all for the News Chronicle , a sort of poor man’s Guardian , which he 
abominated. If anything, he was a don (actually, a sometime fellow of 
King’s College, Cambridge), with all the special donnish qualities of 
indolence and intellectual arrogance. His flat was littered with books; 
mostly paper-covered French editions in which he would forage from 
time to time, picking one up and opening it to read a few pages. Through 
him I first became acquainted with Taine’s Origines de la France Con - 
temporaine , from which I derived great enjoyment and enlightenment. 
How, in any case, could he be expected to provide nourishment for 
News Chronicle readers? With my experience of The Guardian , I, alas, 
knew the form all too exactly, and was happy to oblige occasionally on 
his behalf. His true spiritual home was Paris in the early twenties; he 
had flown to the USSR on the wings of the Gauche Radicale, not the 
Fabians, with L£on Blum and Marc Chagall for his ikon rather than 
Sidney and Beatrice Webb. It was the sheer philistinism of the regime 
that appalled him; its total humourlessness, its abysmal taste, its dreadful 
buildings, its flat, heavy representational paintings of Lenin and Stalin, 
like portraits of Lord Mayors in Manchester Town Hall; the long-winded 
cant and dull hatred which hung like an oppressive cloud over it. Re- 
acting against this philistinism, by a quirk of history, he who had walked 
about Montmartre in a wide black hat, and looked on Hemingway and 
Joyce and the Shakespeare Bookshop, became almost the last voice to 
be heard in Moscow, if not in the world, expounding bourgeois virtues. 
The ultimate champions of a civilisation in dissolution, the Casabiancas 
who stand on its burning deck when all but they have fled, are, by the 
nature of the case, a weird lot, and Cholerton among the weirdest. 

We went together to the Red Square for the parade, rather tipsy, and 
I still resolutely clasping my bedpan wrapped in an old edition of Pravda. 
As we approached the press stand, holding out our passes, one of the 
many security guards insisted on examining my parcel, no doubt sup- 
posing it to be a bomb. He was quite astonished when he saw what it 
was, and handed it back to me with a polite bow. From the press stand 
one looked straight across at the top of Lenin’s Mausoleum where the 
Dictatorship of the Proletariat were standing; Stalin in the middle, with 
Kalinin on one side of him and Voroshilov on the other, and the rest 
carefully graded. They looked like a row of pygmies perched up there; 



230 The Green Stick 

little clockwork manikins who might at any moment disport themselves 
when their mechanism was released, jerkily raising their hats and kicking 
their legs in unison, but for the moment completely still. 

The Red Square was densely packed; there, the Proletariat, and up 
on the Mausoleum, the Dictatorship. How were the two connected? As 
Lenin so succinctly posed the question: Who whom? The scene seemed 
pure fantasy; I couldn’t believe in it. Not even as the mighty procession 
rolled past; the gymnasts, the troops, the bands, the armoured vehicles, 
the dashing cavalry. I wanted to raise my bedpan in the air in a special 
salute of my own; particularly when I noticed a little group of vaguely 
familiar faces behind a banner emblazoned CPGB; they, too, paying 
their tribute to the great Dictatorship of the Proletariat. We who are 
nothing shall be all; he hath put down the mighty from their seats, and 
hath exalted the humble and meek - it was the everlasting theme of 
revolution, here exemplified in all its majesty and fatuity. 

I was so taken with the point that I turned to Cholerton to make it, 
but by mistake addressed a little red-faced buttoned-up Frenchman 
who turned out to be the correspondent of Le Temps - a Corsican 
named Luciani. He shrugged and agreed. On the stand next to ours 
were the diplomatic corps; the ambassadors all arrayed in astrakhan 
collars and fur hats, of varying size and splendour, the service attaches in 
their uniforms, which, in that setting, had a decidedly comic opera air 
about them, as though they had lately been fetched out of the property 
box and dusted down for the occasion. Altogether, they looked a non- 
descript, and even rather sinister lot assembled there, and so completely 
separate that they might have been seated together in a commodious 
tumbril which at any moment would begin to roll. 

In the cold air, the Caucasian wine I had consumed with Cholerton 
began to wear off; he, too, looked somewhat pinched and abstracted, 
wondering, I daresay, what, if anything, could be gleaned for the News 
Chronicle from the turn-out: 

TO-DAY FIFTEENTH ANNIVERSARY BOLSHEVIK OCTOBER RE- 
VOLUTION MARSHAL VOROSHILOV STANDING NEXT STALIN 
WITH REST POLITBUREAU TOOK SALUTE MASSIVE MILITARY 
TURNOUT AMID SCENES GREAT ENTHUSIASM . . . 

‘An unforgettable experience,’ I heard a voice say. It was Lord Marley, 
a recently created Labour peer who had come over with us on the 
Kooperatsia , his face full of rapture. The Montessori teacher said she 
wished the accent had been somewhat less military, but the enthusiasm 
of the people was infectious. If only we had something like that at home! 



Who Whom? 231 

A nearby American warmly agreed. He was wearing a button which bore 
the legend *3%’. The notion, he explained, came from Professor 
Einstein, who had said that if three per cent of mankind were against 
war there never could again be one. He hoped in Moscow to recruit 
Stalin into the programme, which would mean, he figured, the involve- 
ment of the whole Soviet population. 

I arrived back in Kliasma triumphantly bearing my bedpan, to find 
Kitty much better and sitting up and ready to laugh over my adventures. 
The sense of relief drove away all the fears that had been haunting me - 
only £90 left of our travellers’ cheques, and very little money coming in; 
the impossibility of settling in the USSR as we had planned, or of going 
on being a foreign correspondent in Moscow, indeed, of working for The 
Guardian at all; the need to find somewhere for Kitty to have her baby, 
as well as a job for me. All these dilemmas seemed of no account in the 
light of her returned health and smile. A local woman doctor who visited 
her from time to time came in that evening, found that her temperature 
was normal for the first time since her illness began, and shared in our 
rejoicing. She was a cheerful amiable soul, the best type of Soviet 
product; simple, capable and pleasant looking, with a warm bright face. 
We managed to converse in a mixture of Russian and German. Her 
equipment struck me as primitive. For instance, her stethoscope was like 
a little wooden trumpet, and she had no drugs of any kind, not even 
aspirins. One of her favourite treatments, called banki> which she in- 
sisted on administering on this last visit, consisted of warming up a lot 
of little glass pots and then affixing them to Kitty’s back. As they cooled, 
they sucked up the flesh, giving excruciating pain, and, allegedly, easing 
the bronchial tubes. The whole process was so bizarre that we couldn’t 
help laughing, which, of course, made the pain all the greater. 

This so painful laughter was the sign for me that Kitty was now alive. 
What an ecstatic experience to see someone greatly loved who has been 
languishing and dying thus come to life again! Blood moving through 
the veins and arteries, like traffic after a stoppage; nourishment again 
taken, gulped down greedily, each mouthful desperately needed, and 
preparing the way for the next, no less desperately needed. Likewise, air 
greedily breathed in. Talk returning, and laughter; even irritability - all 
manifestations of life. Like Lazarus raised from the dead. Even in plants 
this is wonderful; watering and easing the earth to coax some drooping, 
famished plant to lift its head and stand upright. Each morning’s 
awakening similarly a miracle; beautiful to observe, especially in a child. 
Eyes slowly opening; consciousness coming back into them, chasing 



232 The Green Stick 

away the dreams, and focusing on the new day beginning; stretching, 
coughing, scratching, making ready. So, this preposterous laughter of 
ours, making the little banki jars quiver and shake, to poor Kitty’s 
greater anguish, was particularly joyous as an outward and visible 
manifestation of her recovery. She was, after all, alive; the graph was 
upwards, not downwards; our journey was not over, the road stretched 
onwards. 

Along the straight paths through the pine trees I tried afterwards to 
sort it out in my mind. How suffering, rather than pleasure, should be 
the sacrament of love. The imperfection of the flesh so much more 
crucial than its imagined perfection; the transports of tending it in 
sickness far transcending those of coupling with it in health. A contra- 
diction, a mystery. Peeping in through a broken window of the little 
church with the newly painted front, I saw that it was used now for 
storing tools, as well as some of the fallen slogans from the nearby 
clearing, neatly piled for use the following summer. Yet at the back 
where the altar had been there was still the faint outline of a cross to be 
seen. Another statement of the same proposition. In its survival I read 
the promise that somehow this image of enlightenment through suffer- 
ing, this assertion of the everlasting supremacy of the gospel of love 
over the gospel of power, would never be obliterated, however dimly and 
obscurely traced now, and however seemingly triumphant the forces 
opposed to it might seem to be. 

By the time Kitty was really better we were able to move back to Mos- 
cow, where we occupied the flat of William Henry Chamberlin and his 
wife Sonia in the Borisoglebski Pereulok during their absence on leave. 
Chamberlin was the staff correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor 
and also worked as a stringer for The Guardian. He was a short, podgy, 
highly intelligent, droll man who neither drank nor smoked, his only 
form of self-indulgence being eating chocolate. As he read or ruminated, 
he chewed steadily, reckoning to consume his own weight annually. 
Perhaps because of this, he came increasingly to resemble a figure of the 
Buddha. Originally, he came to the USSR on a wave of pacifist- 
progressive sentiment, but soon soured on the regime, working off his 
resentment in little odd digs and innuendoes delivered on a wide front. 
Each week, for instance, he cut out of the Manchester Guardian Weekly 
an advertisement for a private mental home, posting it off to the public 
figure he considered most in need of it. One week he would send it to 
Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, another to Rabindranath Tagore, always 



Who Whom? 233 

choosing the recipient with the utmost care in the light of his or her 
current attitudes and pronouncements. I was glad to know that one had 
been dispatched to the up-and-coming Anthony Eden, and another to 
Bertrand Russell. 

Chamberlin, and more particularly Sonia -a Russian Jewess by 
origin -had every intention of staying in the USSR for some time to 
come, and very cleverly used his complaisant coverage in The Guardian 
to offset any sharp criticism of the regime he might essay in the Monitor . 
By playing off one against the other he managed to achieve the delicate 
balancing act of keeping on his feet in the USSR without becoming its 
committed stooge. Thus, when readers of the Monitor learnt from him 
that agricultural production was sagging alarmingly, the hearts of 
readers of The Guardian were uplifted by the news that the policy of 
collectivisation was producing undoubted results in the Siberian heart- 
lands. This kept Oumansky happy, since he believed - no doubt cor- 
rectly - that the USSR got the better of the bargain, The Guardian being 
a far more influential organ than the Monitor . After my floundering 
efforts in Chamberlin’s absence to provide a less inhibited service from 
Moscow, Crozier was delighted to have Chamberlin back and resume 
the old arrangement. Substituting for Chamberlin on the Monitor 
presented its own special difficulties. For instance, I was given to under- 
stand that the subject of death was considered to be unsuitable in its 
columns. Unhappily, at the time, nearly all the stories out of Moscow 
were about humans and animals dying, and the various possible 
synonyms - like ‘fell* - scarcely seemed appropriate. I did not fancy 
cabling Boston to the effect that x thousand kulaks had fallen as a result 
of the party instruction to liquidate them. Or that y thousand livestock 
had fallen, having been eaten by famished moujiks in the famine 
conditions induced by collectivisation. 

The house in Borisoglebsky where we took up our quarters was an 
old-fashioned pre-Revolution one, and the Chamberlins’ flat had a large 
tiled stove in it of the kind that occurs in so many of Tolstoy’s and other 
Russian stories. I used to imagine Oblomov’s servant Zachar curled up 
on top of it. We very soon got used to living there, so that we might have 
been back in Didsbury. Revolutions, like wars, upset things far less than 
might be superficially supposed. As the very word ‘revolution’ implies, 
they have a way of ending up where they began. Most days I would go 
to the Press Department, just as I had to the Cross Street Guardian 
office. There one met one’s colleagues, also waiting for the attentions of 
Podolski or Nehman or Ehrens. The older hands knew the form per- 



234 The Green Stick 

fectly, and brought in copy that passed easily through the censor’s 
scrutiny. Newcomers might sometimes argue against the exigencies of 
censorship, and even shout and bang the table, indignant over excisions 
in what they supposed to be straight reporting. They had to learn that 
in the Soviet Union -as, later, everywhere - happenings occur ex- 
clusively on communication media, never in life. It is put out by Toss, 
therefore it is. Or, it has been shown on television, therefore it is. It 
amounts to the same thing. 

The most notable activist among the press corps was Ralph Barnes, 
an earnest eager American reporter who kept us all on our toes. He used 
to pad about the streets of Moscow in rubber shoes hoping to come upon 
some newsworthy person or event, and endlessly apply for interviews 
with Stalin, which were rarely accorded, mostly to eminent visitors like 
H. G. Wells, and even then settled, if not drafted, in advance. When, as 
happened from time to time, Barnes disappeared from Moscow, there 
was great apprehension among the other correspondents. Where had he 
gone? What was he up to? On one such occasion he pulled off a coup of 
stupendous proportions, which made him the envy of all his colleagues. 
He went down to Georgia and managed to interview Stalin’s mother, 
actually getting a photograph of her wearing an old-fashioned peasant 
dress, seated in the porch of her modest, but spotlessly clean cottage; like 
any American mum in Michigan or Minnesota. She was, as he put it, a 
little old lady in black, inordinately proud of her famous son in the 
Kremlin, her Soso. The story had a sensational success, and was widely 
reproduced. Later, doubts were cast on whether the lady in question 
really was Stalin’s mother, or someone dressed up for the part. By that 
time, anyway, who cared? Her appearance in Barnes’s story coincided, 
certainly, with a campaign mounted in the Soviet Press to show that 
Stalin was human -on any showing quite a sizeable undertaking. 
Nothing, however, could detract from the splendour of the scoop, which 
continued to have a special place in Moscow newspaper mythology. 

Another coup Barnes pulled off, less noticed at the time but in- 
trinsically more remarkable, was to procure an interview with someone 
who purported to be fairly high up in the GPU. In the course of their 
conversation, Barnes put to him the naive but fundamental question: 
Why is it that in the USSR innocent people get arrested? The GPU 
man, it seems, fairly shook with laughter at this, to the point that it was 
quite a while before he could get his answer out. Of course we arrest 
innocent people, he said at last in effect; otherwise, no one would be 
frightened. If people are only arrested for specific misdemeanours, all 



Who Whom ? 235 

the others feel safe, and so are ripe for treason. Probably without 
meaning to, he expounded the central doctrine of every terror, as well as 
of all dictatorial government, so brilliantly exemplified by Orwell in 
Nineteen Eighty-Four, and, more imaginatively, in Kafka’s The Trial . 
By making justice subjective and arbitrary, every citizen can be plausibly 
arrested and charged at any time, with the result that they live in a 
permanent state of incipient guilt and fear; really feeling themselves to 
be miserable offenders, not just in the eyes of God, but of their earthly 
rulers as well. Hence the so easily procured confessions, which do not 
need to be invented or extorted, but truly come from the heart. 

In those days foreign journalists were vouchsafed some contact with 
lower echelon Soviet bosses, besides an occasional sight of the top ones; 
even of the boss of the bosses, Stalin himself. He would walk into view 
on a platform, or appear in a box at the Opera House, or at the topmost 
end of a reception, always to the accompaniment of protracted cheers 
that were precisely timed by the GPU men in attendance. Their dura- 
tion steadily increased, and at the time of Stalin’s death had reached a 
minimum of seven and a half minutes. It was a preview of the studio 
audience. Sometimes, again, one would catch a glimpse of the back of 
his head, with its thick neck, as his heavily escorted car shot past, going 
to or from the Kremlin. 

The receptions, whatever their occasion, were invariable. There 
would be a long table loaded with food and drink beside which officials 
would cluster like foraging bees, eating as hard as they could, and some- 
times, when no one was looking, surreptitiously pocketing something 
portable to take home for their dear ones. A regular attender at these 
functions was Borodin, who at one time had played an important role 
in the execution of Soviet policy in China. Now, in semi-disgrace, he had 
been made, of all things, editor of the Moscow Daily News , an English 
language propaganda sheet published in Moscow. The unfortunate man 
had on his staff some ebullient English and American Communist and 
Communist-leaning girls of quite exceptional horror. When I read of his 
inevitable eventual arrest and disappearance, I thought that perhaps 
there might have been a tiny element of relief as he was taken off to 
Lubianka in the thought that he would no longer have to cope with these 
unspeakable harridans. At the reception he would sit alone, quietly 
drinking champagne and chain smoking, wearing an expression of 
oriental vacancy. 

Another fairly frequent attender was Radek, a vivacious quick- 
speaking man with a beard like Nehman’s, who might easily in other 



236 The Green Stick 

circumstances have been taken for a Rabbi. The first time I saw him he 
was the centre of an attentive group of sycophantic listeners, to whom, 
puffing away at his curved Meerschaum pipe, he held forth eloquently. 
At his subsequent appearances they dwindled, until he, like Borodin, sat 
alone. Then he, too, disappeared, to reappear in court to explain how, 
during his days as an active revolutionary in Germany, he was recruited 
into the British Intelligence Service, which he thenceforth faithfully 
served. The last article of his that Klavdia Lvovna translated for me was 
in the vein of the new spirit of nationalism ordained by Stalin, and 
described how, when he was in the arms of his mistress, he found him- 
self speaking in his native patois, rather than in the Russian or German 
he used in his writings and public addresses. 

Sometimes, too, Gorki was wheeled in, if he happened to be in Moscow 
rather than in the Italian villa the Soviet Government allowed him to 
keep. He looked like some extraordinary old performing seal, scarcely 
aware of what was going on around him, or of who anyone was. To me, 
he was an awesome figure because he had known Tolstoy and written 
so beautifully about him. I even made an effort on one occasion to get 
into conversation with him, but it was fruitless. The eyes were asleep; 
he was dozing behind his walrus moustache. In the end I usually 
gravitated to the side of D. N. Mirsky, a former prince in Czarist days, 
with whom I had a vague acquaintance in England. He was always 
invited to Moscow receptions to show any foreigners present that a 
prince could survive unhurt under a dictatorship of the proletariat. 
‘Look at him!* Oumansky would say, flashing his gold teeth. ‘A prince! 
Just imagine!* Mirsky always turned up, I think largely for the free 
champagne. He was a great drinker, and not too well provided with 
money. In any case he only earned roubles - by writing articles in the 
Literatumaya Gazeta tearing to pieces contemporary English writers 
like D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot and Aldous Huxley, to whom, in 
conversation, he would always refer as ‘Poor Lawrence!* ‘Poor Torn!* 
‘Poor Aldous!* I found this sympathetic. In the civil war he had fought 
with the Whites, afterwards living as an exile in Paris, and associating 
himself there with the most extreme reactionary views. Then, he came to 
London, where, inevitably, he became a professor, and was commis- 
sioned to produce a book on Lenin. In the course of working on it, he 
came to see his subject as an enlightened saviour rather than, as hereto- 
fore, a degraded villain. So he changed from being a prince to being a 
comrade: a transformation which was celebrated on the dust-jacket of 



Who Whom? 237 

one of those yellow-covered, left-wing books of the period by showing 
his title struck through with a red line. When I outlined his career to 
Luciani, the Temps correspondent, he observed sourly that Mirsky had 
pulled off the unusual feat of managing to be a parasite under three 
regimes - as a prince under Czarism, as a professor under Capitalism, 
and as an homme-de-lettres under Communism. It was a just saying, 
but all the same I liked Mirsky. 

He sometimes visited Kitty and me in our Borisoglebsky flat to take 
a bath; an amenity not available where he lived. I used to chat with him 
while he dried himself; his body white and tender like a boy's, and the 
old battered, bearded head, so ravaged and decayed, with its rotting 
teeth, seeming not to belong to it; like an old worn hood on a new motor- 
car. All the wear and tear of living seemed to have gone into the head, 
leaving the rest of his body fresh and new. Once, chatting in this way, 
and feeling totally isolated and secure - the bathroom having no win- 
dows, and being filled with steam, so that we might have been in some 
remote cave, or just floating about in space - 1 ventured, on an impulse, 
to ask him if he really believed the awful plays shown in Moscow 
theatres (apart from the Stanislavsky productions, which, after all, 
belonged essentially to the pre-Revolution period) were any good; 
Stalin and his unsightly gang, great leaders and seers; the unspeakable 
buildings, fine architecture; the new Socialist cities, other than instant 
slums, the empty slogans mechanically bawled, the dogma of a 
new religion; the stale Marxist notions, superficial in themselves, and 
even then misunderstood or deliberately distorted, the messages of the 
future. 

Mirsky went on drying himself slowly and deliberately, as though 
anxious to delay as long as possible covering up his body and leaving 
only his stained head exposed. Then he turned on me in one of his sud- 
den furies, telling me that I was a fool who understood nothing. Plays 
and people and buildings and slogans and ideas, he said, didn't matter 
in the least. 

What did matter, then? I asked him. Now he stopped drying alto- 
gether, and just looked scornfully at me. What mattered was that what 
was happening in the USSR had to happen. That forces, interacting, 
produced a resultant force, which was irresistible. He might have been 
a Hebrew prophet, Jeremiah or Isaiah, proclaiming: Thus saith the 
Lord! Or Calvin preaching to the predestined the inevitability of their 
predestined salvation or damnation. Or Beethoven with his Es Muss 
Sein. When all the cant was put aside, I reflected, this was why all those 



238 The Green Stick 

ribald nondescript intellectuals so assiduously and cravenly followed 
their sour, Georgian Pied Piper - because in his wake they were among 
the Elect, and could count on salvation. They were ahead of history; 
propagandists for a victory which had yet to be won. Who Whom? - 
yes; but for ever Who! 

One evening Mirsky took me along to a party at a sort of hostel where 
foreign writers were lodged. It was in honour of a Soviet writer whose 
play - Cement - had just been produced with great critical acclaim but 
little convincing audience enthusiasm. The guest of honour was a little 
man in top boots with a youthful lined face, like a jockey’s. Whenever 
anyone spoke to him, he bowed, but said nothing. A group of Soviet 
poets in embroidered shirts stood round him like a bodyguard, who also 
bowed in unison when anyone greeted him, and, if he ventured a remark 
on his own account, gave it their respectful attention, or, if it was meant 
to be funny, fell into paroxysms of laughter; picked up by other guests, 
so that it echoed and re-echoed through the room. Again, there was a 
long table loaded with food and plentiful supplies of gaseous Soviet 
champagne, of which Mirsky partook lavishly. Drink made him more 
sombre and silent than usual; he sat looking balefully across at Elsa, the 
companion of the French poet Louis Aragon, for whom he had con- 
ceived a strong passion. She was, indeed, very beautiful. 

At a certain point in the proceedings Aragon stood up and announced 
that he had just received a message from Paris that the members of the 
French Surrealist Movement had joined the Communist Party en bloc . 
At the news of this addition to the ranks of the World Proletariat there 
was a burst of cheering, in which, I noticed, Mirsky did not participate. 
This was doubtless due more to resentment over Aragon’s favoured 
position vis-d-vis Elsa than to any scepticism about the importance of 
his announcement. Aragon read aloud an adulatory poem in vers libres 
that he had lately written about the French Communist Party, rolling 
out the words with immense gusto, his arms outstretched against the 
wall as though he was being crucified. 

Leaving Mirsky’s side, I wandered about the party rather discon- 
solately, trying to find someone to talk to. There were one or two 
American writers present of whose works, although apparently they 
sold in millions in the USSR, I had never heard, and quite a few Poles 
and East Europeans, some of them wearing decorated skull-caps. The 
only fellow-Englishman I came across was a man in top boots and a 
belted shirt who had, he told me, just come back from Baku, where he 
had been helping with the direction of a film reconstructing an incident 



Who Whom ? 239 

at the end of the 1914-18 war when British forces executed a number of 
Soviet Commissars who had fallen into their hands. One of his tasks had 
been to teach the extras playing the part of the British troops to sing 
‘Tipperary’, which had really been quite difficult; they had to learn the 
words phonetically, and he himself had been pretty shaky on the tune. 
He was deadly serious about his curious assignment. 

Soon after this encounter I slipped away; there seemed no point in 
trying to stir up Mirsky, whose eyes by this time were quite glassy, and 
who had fallen into a deep trance. I walked briskly home, through the 
now almost deserted streets, near the Pushkin Memorial passing a 
bearded man in a sheepskin coat who was stretched out asleep or dead 
in the snow. Footsteps had made a detour round him; I followed them, 

Mirsky never discussed with me how he felt about having returned to 
the USSR as a Soviet citizen. It was obviously an act of great im^ 
prudence, and it was clear that he disliked living in Moscow, and having 
to associate with other Soviet penmen. In London his position had been 
quite comfortable; as a crossed-out prince he had an assured social 
position both in upper-class and intelligentsia circles, besides being 
welcome at working-class gatherings. Even - perhaps particularly - the 
Communists were glad to have a prince with them on the plinth in 
Trafalgar Square when they assembled there. In Moscow he was com- 
pletely at the mercy of the authorities. I don’t, of course, know whether 
he ever meditated trying to escape, but once, when we happened to be 
looking at a map together, his finger moved to Batum, on the Turkish 
frontier, and stayed there. I never heard for certain what happened to 
him, but know that he was arrested and taken off, either to be executed 
or to die in a labour camp. The ostensible cause of his fall from favour 
was, it seems, an article he had written on the occasion of the centenary 
of Pushkin’s death in 1937. Following what he supposed to be the Party 
Line, he wrote of Pushkin as a court lackey and toady. Alas for him, the 
Line had changed, and Pushkin had been reinstated as a national hero. 
So, as it turned out, Mirsky was liquidated for denigrating Pushkin - a 
delectable example of Fearful Symmetry, whose cruel whimsicality may 
well have appealed to his own savage temperament. When I heard how 
his fall had come about, I recalled Luciani’s remark about him; of his 
three essays in parasitism, it was the last that had proved the most 
hazardous and exacting. 

I saw Kitty off at Moscow station to go back to England to have our 
baby by herself. It was one of many partings which all seem hateful to 
me now; at the time my feelings were more mixed. I remember very 



240 The Green Stick 

vividly her face at the window as the train steamed away. Smiling and 
serene, as though she would be back in the evening. Actually, she was 
leaving with practically no money, and no certainty as to when, how, or 
even if, we should all be together again; with a baby due in two to three 
months, and only a dubious prospect of staying with my mother. Again 
and again I have been made aware of this rare quality of courage in her, 
taking refuge myself, with my easily failing heart, within the sanctuary 
it offers. I expect I should have gone with her; she never once asked me 
to, and I never thought of going. My callousness in such situations - a 
callousness the more abhorrent for being often quite unconscious - is 
something I look back on with particular disgust. 

When the rear-lamp of the train had finally disappeared, I turned and 
walked away with Strang, of the British Embassy, whose wife had left 
for London on the same train. He was a diligent and kindly fonctionnaire , 
who later became head of the Foreign Office, serving sedately through 
the troubled appeasement years. Neville Chamberlain put him in the 
ignominious position of having to go through the motions of negotiating 
an Anglo-Soviet Treaty while Stalin was busily extorting the maximum 
loot from lining up with Hitler. He gave me a lift in his embassy car, and 
I tried to improve the occasion by questioning him about British policy 
towards the USSR. Without seeming to do so, he managed to evade my 
questions; like an experienced waiter managing not to catch the eye of a 
customer clamouring for attention. How fascinating they are; these 
gentle, diligent, honest souls, carefully buttoned and tailored, who some- 
how follow the twentieth century’s Gadarene way without ever losing 
their breath or becoming dishevelled! For ever Jeeves, to an increasingly 
demented Bertie Wooster. 

Shortly after Kitty’s departure Sonia Chamberlin returned to Moscow 
without William Henry, and for some weeks we took our meals together 
in the Borisoglebsky apartment. Apart from this, I saw little of her, 
usually withdrawing to my own room as soon as I decently could to get 
on with my novel, or write articles and news stories for The Guardian . 
I also spent a lot of time with Cholerton, and roaming the streets. It is 
the kind of existence I have always fallen into very easily when relieved 
of the necessity to be in such a place, and to do thus and thus at such a 
time. Sonia was a low-built solid little woman with clumsy features and 
the shades of the ghetto still about her. There was also a strong flavour 
of Brooklyn, topped up with cultural and social aspirations, which took 



Who Whom? 241 

the form of wanting to have a salon frequented by professors and writers 
and musicians; people she regarded as having intellectual or artistic 
distinction. 

In Moscow she was well placed to assemble a creditable salon; though 
no Madame du Deffand, a warmed house and modest refreshments were 
a big draw, and she had no difficulty in attracting to her evening parties 
quite an impressive collection of the more old-fashioned sort of Russian 
intelligentsia who had somehow managed to survive into the Stalin era, 
along with an occasional first or second secretary from one of the 
embassies, and itinerant European or American writers who happened 
to be in town. Rather like Cholerton (who perhaps for that reason did 
not find her sympathetic), she was another unexpected Casabianca, 
standing on the burning deck of the good ship Bourgeoisie . I caught a 
last glimpse of her in 1969, when she came to see us with William Henry, 
wearing, I noticed, white laced-up kid boots of the kind to be seen in old 
pictures of Baden Baden at the turn of the century. This was her period, 
and not even the Russian Revolution could deflect her from living in it. 
Soon after her visit to us I heard that she had died. William Henry did 
not wait long to follow. Theirs had been a very close partnership; I 
remember how, when the Christian Science Monitor arrived in his 
absence, she would point to some headline above his by-line likely to 
please Oumansky, and say, glowing with warm tenderness: ‘He’s think- 
ing of me.’ When he finally left the USSR, William Henry compensated 
for such indulgent marital signals by becoming an ardent supporter 
of Senator McCarthy and a regular contributor to the Wall Street 
Journal. 

The battered, broken fragments of pre-Revolution Moscow intelli- 
gentsia who gathered at Sonia’s salon had an apologetic air about them, 
as though saying: We quite recognise that in a manner of speaking we 
have a measure of responsibility for what has happened. But is it, when 
you come to think about it, such a calamity as might at first sight 
appear? After all, it has meant free universal education, and the emanci- 
pation of women, and birth control, hasn’t it? Perhaps after a bit, when 
things have got into their stride, some of the harsher aspects will be 
softened, and we’ll have proportional representation with the transferred 
vote, and a branch of the PEN Club here in Moscow, and available 
copies of the Times Literary Supplement , the New Statesman and The New 
Republic. My old Guardian editorials came wanly alive in them. They 
went on hoping, greatly hoping; the very last moderate men of all shades 
of opinion to draw together in the USSR. Eating tiny sweet cakes and 

C.W.T.— Q 



242 The Green Stick 

sipping coffee in little cups at Sonia’s salon, they were back twenty years 
before, when they talked about workers’ control, and nationalising the 
land, and female suffrage; about making the past a tabula rasa , with no 
property, no family, and then the State would wither away, leaving 
labour to organise itself. They heard themselves proclaiming it all, in 
voices younger and more confident than their present apologetic whis^ 
pers. Tabula rasa indeed; so it had come to pass. A clean slate, and they 
the first to be wiped off it. A lady with a raw face and little tufts of stiff 
black hair growing out of it began to talk about Chekhov. ‘She knew 
him, ’the other murmured. ‘She’s going to talk about Chekhov, It’ll be 
such an interesting evening.’ 

Alexander Woolcott, a New Yorker mandarin who had looked in, 
suddenly gave his attention to what was being said. He saw a splendid 
piece in this, whimsically reporting how, at such a dingy, unappetising 
gathering in Moscow, new vivid reminiscence of the famous Russian 
playwright had been recounted. Mentally, he began to make notes of 
the scene; the old house, in what had doubtless once been a superior 
residential suburb; dark, musty passages, pieces of carpet and cloth 
draped over the walls, chairs and tables all likewise covered. A dusty, 
muffled, stale old house, and these people part of the dust and the stale- 
ness themselves. Ideological waifs and strays - he liked that phrase. He 
was a well-covered man himself, with a wide expanse of face, gleaming 
spectacles, and a camel-hair coat and fur hat hanging in the hall ready 
for when he went out. Clearing his throat noisily to attract full attention, 
he enjoyed telling them how that morning, when he stood on the steps 
of the Metropole Hotel where he was staying, a passer-by had come up 
to him and just gently passed his hand over his camel-hair coat, following 
the curve of his ample stomach, by way of a salute to his en-bon-point y 
his well-being, his affluence. The others laughed, but uneasily; they felt 
they were themselves rather in the position of the passer-by. They, too, 
metaphorically speaking, had been stroking Woolcott’s stomach, so 
beautifully moulded, mounted and arrayed. The warmth of the flat, the 
talk, the refreshments, all brought them momentarily to life; like hiber- 
nating flies in sudden heat. When they put on their outdoor clothes, their 
shabby old coats and galoshes and nondescript knitted balaclavas, 
and went out into the street, they died again, creeping away to their 
holes. 

For these residual ageing progressives who had not even been con- 
sidered worth liquidating, the visits to Moscow of famous foreign intel- 



Who Whom ? 243 

lectuals were gala occasions. Long-standing household gods come among 
them, whom they might even have known personally in the past; 
fraternal delegates at some conference or convention at which a Harold 
Laski or a Bernard Shaw or an Albert Thomas had been among the 
speakers. The fact that this link existed nourished the hope that it might 
somehow be possible actually to exchange a word with one or other of 
them, recalling past acquaintanceship. In practice, of course, it never 
happened. How could the distinguished visitors be expected to remem- 
ber the last time they had seen these dismal relics of the past, when they, 
too, wore carelessly elegant suits, and had their hair in fine disarray; 
maybe with pince-nez like Webb’s on a black ribbon; or even a monocle, 
like his fellow-Fabian, Hubert Bland? When, instead of creeping about 
apologetically in old balaclavas, they likewise stood on a platform, 
waving their hands in the air and proclaiming the coming of the great 
day when the workers would seize power, and mankind live happily ever 
after? Nor were to-day’s distinguished visitors likely to reflect that, come 
another revolution or two, they might find themselves in their turn seedy 
citizens of a workers’ paradise, with no return first-class ticket in their 
pockets to take them back to capitalist exploitation in London or Paris 
or New York whenever they had a mind. 

For resident foreign journalists in Moscow the arrival of the dis- 
tinguished visitors was also a gala occasion, for a different reason. They 
provided us with our best - almost our only - comic relief. For instance, 
when we heard Shaw, accompanied by Lady Astor (who was photo- 
graphed cutting his hair), declare that he was delighted to find there was 
no food shortage in the USSR. Or Laski singing the praises of Stalin’s 
new Soviet constitution. Or Julian Huxley describing how a ‘German 
town-planning expert was travelling over the huge Siberian spaces in a 
special train with a staff of assistants, stopping every now and again to 
lay down the broad outlines of a future city, and then pushing on, leaving 
the details to be filled in by architects and engineers who remained 
behind.’ Or - a collector’s item - Maurice Hindus describing a young 
man at the reception desk of a Soviet home for reformed prostitutes who 
‘wears a modern suit of clothes, complete with collar and tie, and, what 
is more astonishing, spats.’ ‘Communist though he is,’ he adds of this 
worthy, ‘he deems it essential to keep up as presentable an appearance 
as the scanty supplies in the Moscow haberdashery shops permit.’ 
Hindus, an American of Russian- Jewish extraction with black curly hair 
and a winning smile, wrote best-selling books in such a vein ( Red 
Bread , Humanity Uprooted) about the Soviet regime. Future historians 



244 The Green Stick 

may well comment that the road to world revolution is paved with best- 
sellers. 

We used to run a little contest among ourselves to see who could 
produce the most striking example of credulity among this fine flower of 
our western intelligentsia. Persuading church dignitaries to feel at home 
in an anti- God museum was too easy to count. So was taking lawyers 
into the People’s Courts. The Webbs, too, were for beginners only. I got 
an honourable mention by persuading Lord Marley that the queueing at 
food shops was permitted by the authorities because it provided a means 
of inducing the workers to take a rest when otherwise their zeal for 
completing the Five-Year Plan in record time was such that they would 
keep at it all the time, but no marks for floating a story that Soviet citi- 
zens were being asked to send in human hair - any sort - for making 
of felt boots. It seemed that this had actually happened. A correspondent 
the Neue Freie Presse was commended for inducing the French Premier, 
Herriot, to believe, when he visited the USSR, that the milk shortage 
there was due to the large amounts allocated to nursing mothers. 
Cholerton, rightly, received the Grand Prix when, overhearing an 
eminent British jurist ask Oumansky whether Habeas Corpus operated 
in the USSR, he broke in to tell him, to his complete satisfaction, that, 
whatever might be the case with Habeas Corpus, the authorities strictly 
adhered to Habeas Cadaver. 

I have never forgotten these visitors, or ceased to marvel at them, at 
how they have gone on from strength to strength, continuing to lighten 
our darkness, and to guide, counsel and instruct us; on occasion, mo- 
mentarily abashed, but always ready to pick themselves up, put on their 
cardboard helmets, mount Rosinante, and go galloping off on yet another 
foray on behalf of the down-trodden and oppressed. They are un- 
questionably one of the wonders of the age, and I shall treasure till I 
die as a blessed memory the spectacle of them travelling with radiant 
optimism through a famished countryside, wandering in happy bands 
about squalid, over-crowded towns, listening with unshakeable faith to 
the fatuous patter of carefully trained and indoctrinated guides, re- 
peating like schoolchildren a multiplication table, the bogus statistics 
and mindless slogans endlessly intoned to them. There, I would think, 
an earnest office-holder in some local branch of the League of Nations 
Union, there a godly Quaker who once had tea with Gandhi, there an 
inveigher against the Means Test and the Blasphemy Laws, there a 
staunch upholder of free speech and human rights, there an indomitable 
preventer of cruelty to animals; there scarred and worthy veterans of a 



Who Whom ? 245 

hundred battles for truth, freedom and justice -all, all chanting 
the praises of Stalin and his Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It was as 
though a vegetarian society had come out with a passionate plea for can- 
nibalism, or Hitler had been nominated posthumously for the Nobel 
Peace Prize. 

When William Henry returned, I moved out of his Borisoglebsky 
apartment and took up residence in the National Hotel. The decor was 
in heavy marble and gilt, rather like the stations in the Moscow under- 
ground, then under construction, and to become a tourist show-place. 
Once, sitting with Mirsky in the hotel lounge, I remarked upon its 
excruciating taste. Yes, he agreed, it was pretty ghastly, but it expressed 
the sense of what a luxury hotel should be like in the mind of someone 
who had only stared in at one through plate-glass windows from the 
cold, inhospitable street outside. This, he said, was the key to all the 
regime’s artistic products - the long turgid novels, the lifeless portraits 
and landscapes in oils, the gruesome People’s neo-Gothic architecture, 
the leaden conservatory concerts and creaking ballet. Culturally, it was 
all of a piece. There is no surer way of preserving the worst aspects of 
bourgeois style than liquidating the bourgeoisie; whatever else Stalin 
may, or may not, have done, he assuredly made Russia safe for the 
Forsyte Saga. 

The ceremonial opening of the Dneprostroi Dam, to which all foreign 
journalists were invited, provided a welcome opportunity to get away 
from Moscow. A special train was laid on for us, consisting entirely of 
ancient international wagons-lits, in which we were allotted berths. 
There was also, of course, a restaurant car. In over-heated carriages, 
with vodka flowing freely, gossiping and laughing, we rolled south- 
wards, looking vaguely out of the windows at the passing countryside, 
which gradually, as we progressed, grew less wintry, more sunny and 
salubrious. For the most part the small stations we rattled through 
were cleared of people, but sometimes there were some bedraggled 
looking peasants clustered together on the platform. Noticing one such 
cluster, a large German correspondent carelessly threw out of the win- 
dow a leg of chicken he had been gnawing at. There was a concerted 
move to pick it up. The gesture and the response have stayed with me 
through the intervening years like stigmata. 

It seemed somehow symbolic of our whole situation that we, the re- 
porters, should thus be coursing so cosily through this vast country that 
was our territory. Seeing, and yet not seeing. In it, and yet inexorably 
isolated and insulated; as it might be in a television control-room, and 



246 The Green Stick 

looking down at a distant studio; faces, gestures and words there trans- 
mitted to us in recorded sounds and pictures. In the restaurant car a 
game of poker was in progress, round which a little group of spectators 
had gathered, including Ehrens, a keen player himself. With no dead- 
lines to meet, no possibility of cabling, we could take it easy. Whatever 
happened would be a non-happening because unrecorded by us. I 
looked out of the window as night fell; such a beautiful countryside, 
luminous in the winter sunshine. The countryside of War and Peace % 
of Oblomov , of Dead Souls . I knew it as though I had lived in it all my 
life. What, after all, could Stalin and his henchmen do to it? It would 
surely outlast and outshine them. I had a notion even that I might live 
to go about in it cheerfully and freely, as in Sussex or Provence. Forty 
years later, this has not yet come to pass. Still, I do not despair, though 
there are now not many more years to go. 

I was joined by an Englishman in short s who carried his luggage in a 
rucksack, and was preparing material for a series of articles in the New 
Leader , then the organ of the Independent Labour Party. He was a 
nondescript sort of person, with a small black moustache, not as young 
as he looked or as old as he felt, who had been to prison as a conscientious 
objector in the war. It was easy to imagine him, at some ILP summer 
school, holding forth in his gritty, insistent voice about how, in the 
USSR, there were other motives than greed as the mainspring of action, 
nobler ideals to fight for than country or empire (not that he advocated 
violence in any circumstances; he meant mental fight, in the sense of 
striving after, seeking earnestly to attain); new standards of value, a new 
relationship between man and man. Now he had begun to wonder. 
There seemed to be a lot of violence about. Was all the talk about the 
Three Letters (a pseudonym used in conversation to avoid mentioning 
the dreaded GPU) justified and true? He was, I could see, troubled in 
spirit; like an evangelical clergyman who has suddenly been smitten 
with doubts about the Thirty-Nine Articles; with the same look of mute 
suffering in his eyes. 

‘Being actually in the USSR,’ he said, ‘drives one back to first prin- 
ciples, doesn’t it?’ Cholerton, who was standing nearby, said he thought 
it drove one back rather to last principles. Louis Fischer, correspondent 
of the American Nation , then chipped in to say that one mustn’t expect 
too much; after all, the great experiment had only been going for fifteen 
years. We must give them time. Fischer was a sallow, ponderous, in- 
ordinately earnest man, dear to Oumansky as one who had never once 
through the years veered from virtuously following the Party Line. 



Who Whom? 247 

Later, at the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, he did veer, quite drastically, 
afterwards turning for solace to Gandhi; a port in a storm for many an 
ideological wanderer. If the Mahatma had been present, I should have 
referred the troubled Englishman to him; as he wasn’t, I told him to try 
Wicksteed who was, as being the next best thing. Wicksteed generally 
managed to attach himself to jaunts like the Dneprostroi one, if only to 
partake of the plentiful hospitality. I saw the two of them later in earnest 
conversation. I doubt if Fischer’s defection, when at last it came, much 
troubled the Soviet authorities. His usefulness by that time was largely 
exhausted, and they might have reflected with Dryden that they had 
lost a villain, and his new patrons gained a fool. 

I shared my compartment with a charming Bulgarian named An- 
dreychin whom I had met at one of Sonia’s salons. As we lay in our 
berths we talked together through much of the night. With the blinds 
up, we could look out of the window at a countryside now bathed in 
moonlight, most wonderfully still and serene, with just an occasional 
little cluster of lights coming into view and then disappearing. An- 
dreychin had lived in America, where he had been a member of the 
International Workers of the World (the Wobblies). Describing to me 
with great zest and delight the antics they got up to with a view to 
undermining the economy of the State, he spoke of it all as though it 
had been an undergraduate frolic in his golden youth; something so 
delightful and gay and blameless that he could not hope ever again to 
recapture its spirit. Occasionally he broke out into one of their Wobblie 
songs, as it might have been a boating or a drinking song at some festive 
campus fraternity gathering, rather than a call to workers to rise up in 
their might and fury, and death to all bosses. He had been deported at 
the time of the Sacco-Vanizetti affair, making for the USSR, and re- 
maining there ever since. Already he had done one stint in a labour 
camp. 

But surely, I said, what you were striving after in America you’ve got 
here. Yes, he replied, doubtfully; it must be so. All the same, what 
would he not give to be back with the Wobblies in Detroit, engaged in 
bringing about the dissolution of the capitalist system! In the great 
purges of the middle thirties I heard that he had been given a further 
ten years’ sentence. Then, to everyone’s amazement, he turned up in 
Paris in 1946 as an interpreter with the Bulgarian delegation at the peace 
negotiations. He had lost most of his hair and all his teeth at the labour 
camp - tougher this time, he said, than at his first stretch - but was still 
liable to break into his Wobblie songs over a bottle in the evening. His 



248 The Green Stick 

western friends would have been glad to persuade him to stay in Paris, 
but he insisted on returning to Sofia, where in due course he was dis- 
posed of, like all the others, with a bullet in the back of his head. Did he 
give one more rendering of his Wobblie songs as they took him off? It 
would be nice to think so. 

The next morning we arrived at Kharkov, now, instead of Kiev, the 
capital of the Ukraine. We were played into the station by a band; as it 
struck up the ‘Internationale’ in honour of Kalinin, nominally the head 
of State, who was travelling with us, everyone stood to attention, though 
in our Press carriages, where there was a general atmosphere of hang- 
over, somewhat laxly. Kalinin was a small thin man with a wispy 
beard; so innocuous that, almost alone of Stalin’s closer colleagues, he 
died unpurged. In the legend he was said to be a peasant, but I thought 
he had a decided resemblance to Sidney Webb - not by any means the 
same thing. Oumansky was waiting for us to take us to breakfast, 
wearing a cloth cap, breeches and top boots, which made him look woe- 
begone; like a child at a Christmas party who has put on a cowboy outfit, 
and feels uneasily half aware that it isn’t quite making the hoped for 
impression. 

I was confronted with a similar sartorial surprise in the Ukraine when 
I accompanied Harold Macmillan there in 1959. In view of the fact that 
a visit to a collective farm was included in his itinerary, he arrayed 
himself for his arrival at Kiev in a plus-fours ensemble of the kind still 
considered appropriate for opening Conservative garden fetes in the 
Home Counties. At the station he was met by local dignitaries, and 
delivered a speech which one of his staff had prepared about how in the 
twelfth century an English monarch had espoused a Ukrainian princess, 
and how ever since relations between the two countries had been par- 
ticularly warm and cordial. On such occasions the ostensible Soviet 
public in attendance have in front of them a solid phalanx of policemen 
in issue civilian suits, with wide trousers, and plenty of room under the 
armpits for whatever they might wish to lodge there. I scrutinised the 
granite faces of some of these worthies to see whether there was any 
reaction to the British Prime Minister’s remarks, and in one or two I 
thought I detected a faint flickering of the eyelids expressive of surprise, 
wonder, and maybe an impulse to laugh. That Christmas, greatly to my 
surprise, I got a telegram from the Soviet satirical magazine, Krokodil , 
asking me to let them have an account of the funniest thing that in my 
estimation had happened during the current year. In reply, I sent off a 
description of Macmillan in Kiev, but the editor wrote back very 



Who Whom ? 249 

politely to the effect that, though he personally thought my piece 
decidedly funny, his magazine circulated among the broad masses, who 
held Macmillan in the highest esteem and therefore would not be 
amused. It might have been Crozier. 

After breakfast Oumansky took us to see some newly constructed 
factories. We traipsed rather disconsolately through them after him, to 
a barrage of incomprehensible and unbelievable statistics. If any of us 
allowed our attention to wander or lingered behind, Louis Fischer took 
it upon himself to round us up. ‘Come on! It creates such a bad impres- 
sion if we don’t seem interested.’ A man from the Chicago Daily News 
muttered under his breath that he wasn't interested anyway. Where’s the 
colour? Where’s the human interest? he groaned. Visiting factories and 
listening to statistics - unless of course, one happens to be a specialist, 
and even then, readers aren’t - is one of the major miseries of reporting 
in Communist counties. There is no getting out of it; unavailing to 
say, as I did when I was in China, that I was uninterested in heavy, or 
for that matter light, industry, that I was perfectly ready to take on trust 
the giant strides made in the way of industrial development, and only 
interested in things like clergymen and co-education. It made no 
difference; the dreadful ritual was inescapable. I imagine that pilgrims in 
the Middle Ages were likewise required to go on all fours through the 
Catacombs, and make their reverent but uncomfortable way to remote 
desert shrines. 

Our special train arrived at Dneprostroi late at night, and Oumansky 
suggested that we should go at once and look at the dam and the hydro- 
electric station. He was, one could see, already excited himself. So, we 
piled into motor cars (in those days all the official Soviet cars were 
Ford Lincolns), and there it was; looking like a huge theatrical set, with 
searchlights flashing, sirens sounding, and written across the sky in 
letters of fire: electricity plus soviet power equals com- 
munism. A sort of Red Broadway. In the river below a great swirl and 
rush of water; at the dam, soldiers on sentry-go, their bayonets gleaming 
as they marched to and fro. Accompanying us there was a retired Ameri- 
can colonel with several tremulous chins and a southern accent, who had 
directed some of the construction. He, too, was uplifted. ‘It looks great,’ 
he murmured. ‘Great!’ Louis Fischer warmly agreed, going on to ask: 
‘How have you found working here, Colonel?’ ‘That’s been great, too,’ 
the other answered, adding, half to himself: ‘No labour trouble!* Every- 
one knew what he meant; prisoners on forced labour had been available 



250 The Green Stick 

as and when required. Fischer hurriedly changed the subject, moving 
on to the safer territory of how many kilowatts were being generated, 
and what volume of water the dam contained. 

Oumansky climbed on to a little knoll and took off his cloth cap; he 
looked very Napoleonic standing there, and I almost expected him to 
tuck his hand into his overcoat in Napoleon’s favourite gesture. The 
noise, the flashing lights, the movement; the sense of something im- 
mense that was reined in, controlled; power concentrated into a switch 
that anyone’s fingers - his - could turn on and off; enormous wheels and 
turbines turning; silently, precisely revolving - all this went to his head. 
‘You see, gentlemen, what we have done/ he shouted at us, and went 
on to recite to us the tale of achievement - the largest hydro-electric 
station in the world; the world’s record for cement-pouring, more 
electricity being generated than ever before in one single place; the whole 
thing finished in under four years, and now fully operative. ‘Who,’ he 
concluded, ‘dare talk now of an interesting experiment?’ Louis Fischer 
also took off his hat; it seemed the right thing to do, and he hoped the 
rest of us would follow his example. Actually none of us did. The ILP 
man certainly would have followed suit, except that, despite the freezing 
cold, he had no hat, though for some reason he had put on his rucksack 
to come to the dam. Fischer made up for our lack of response by a short 
formal speech: ‘Mr Oumansky, we, representatives of many nations and 
many newspapers, would like you to know . . / 

The next morning Kalinin stood with the other notables on a raised 
platform and addressed a large audience assembled in an amphitheatre 
consisting mostly of delegations with banners and bands. Every so often 
one or other of these bands would play the ‘Internationale’, whereupon 
everyone would rise to their feet. Kalinin, with photographers hovering 
round him like insects with protruding eyes, delivered a speech which 
droned on and on, echoed and re-echoed by a series of loud-speakers, so 
that his words seemed to be chasing after each other across the amphi- 
theatre. There was no response to them anyway; only an occasional 
rumble of drilled applause, and an occasional outburst of the ‘Inter- 
nationale’. He was followed by Henri Barbusse, author of Le Feu y a 
cadaverous looking Frenchman who spluttered over his words and waved 
his arms helplessly in the air as he spoke. It was impossible to hear what 
he said, but certain words and phrases came sizzling out of him; like 
la Paix , la France , une journie inoubliable pour la classe ouvribre . ‘I see a 
vision,’ he shrieked in his vibrant French, moisture glistening like dew 
on his moustache, ‘of the toiling masses everywhere looking up from 



Who Whom? 251 

their misery and degradation, with hope in their eyes because of what 
you have achieved in your great workers’ republic under the mighty 
leadership of Comrade Stalin.’ Luciani aptly described him as un homme 
dicomposi, and, indeed, his decomposition was such that one almost 
expected him to fall to pieces with the very vehemence of his oratory in 
so frail a body. 

Compared with the night before, all the fire and mysticism of 
the occasion seemed absent; it needed the search-lights piercing the 
darkness, the letters of fire, the sentries and the sound of the swirling 
water, to provide a proper setting. Even Oumansky seemed subdued 
and dejected; the interminable speeches had a debilitating effect which 
not even the Commissar for Heavy Industry (Cholerton called 
him the Commissar for Heavy Income), an enormous Georgian 
named Ordshonikidze, was able to overcome. Cold and dispirited, we 
returned to our train, glad when it started on the return journey to 
Moscow, 

Back in Moscow I felt at a loose end. My enthusiasm for dredging up 
items from the Soviet press with Klavdia Lvovna’s help, had greatly 
abated. I spent more and more time tramping about the streets, or 
talking with Cholerton. My novel about The Guardian which I had sent 
off with Kitty was not, I now heard, acceptable to the publisher, who 
wrote complimentary things about it, but said the risk of legal action was 
too great to take. So I did not even get the £50 advance on which I 
had been counting. In the evenings I made a round of the theatres, 
often accompanied by Katerina Georgevna, whom I liked more and 
more. Her great simplicity of character and goodness shone in her face, 
making her beautiful. I have always loved such qualities and those who 
have them, and, contrariwise, been attracted sensually by those who lack 
them - who are egotistic and greedy and faithless. This is why happiness 
through the senses, even when I have sought it, has always seemed to 
me a vain pursuit, and also why, I suppose, I am often called a Manichee, 
No statement could possibly be, to me, more self-evidently true than 
St Paul’s when he says that to be carnally minded is death, and to be 
spiritually minded life and peace. Unfortunately, I have wasted too 
much of my life in the death-camp of carnality. 

Katerina Georgevna, in any case, was a delightful companion. She 
loved Russian drama and gave me the feel of it as no professional critic 
could. It was part of her life, something she treasured to keep alive a 
past that had been historically abolished. Thus, for instance, at a mar- 



252 The Green Stick 

vellous production of Dead Souk at the Moscow Art Theatre, then still 
being directed by Stanislavsky, she, as it were, introduced me to each of 
the characters, so that I knew them and can remember them perfectly 
to this day, even though I could not follow the dialogue. Afterwards, she 
gave me a set of postcard representations of them which I have kept 
carefully to this day and I have gone on reading Gogol’s masterpiece 
from time to time; along with Don Quixote, Gulliver, Rabelais, Candide 
and Falstaff. In the interval we followed the pleasant Russian custom 
of joining the procession winding round and round the foyer, 
watching the others as they were watching us, and talking about 
the play. 

One comment of Katerina Georgevna’s that sticks in my mind was 
made about The Cherry Orchard . After agreeing with me about the 
excellence of the production, she added: ‘But all the same, I couldn’t 
see what they were bothering about. They had plenty to eat.* As a child 
she had been through the famine and the Civil War, and the memory 
was so searing that the sorrows and deprivations of Chekhov’s characters 
failed to register. It was indeed a superb production, I think the best I 
have ever seen, and the first to be put on in Moscow since the Revolu- 
tion. Up to then, Chekhov’s plays had been banned as ideologically 
unsound and decadent. So, for the Art Theatre, and for Stanislavsky 
personally, it was a great occasion; the theatre’s reputation had been 
built on Chekhov, and there was still a sea-gull on its curtain. Chekhov’s 
widow, Knipper, played the lead, and the whole cast, down to the smal- 
lest part, perfectly recreated a society so rootless and without values that, 
a revolution seemed scarcely necessary to bring about its destruction. 
The end was almost insupportable - the steel teeth of a saw biting into 
a tree-trunk; the downfall of a way of life, if not of a civilisation. 
Chekhov only foresaw the downfall, but this audience had lived through 
it. Many of them were in floods of tears, all were deeply moved; as was 
Katerina Georgevna despite her comment about the cast having plenty 
to eat; as, indeed, was I, despite my valuta origins and prospects. 

We occasionally visited the other Moscow theatres - the Tairov, the 
Mayerhold, the Vakhtangov - but without caring much for them. After 
the Art Theatre, they all seemed rather spurious though, as can now be 
seen, making straight the way for Peter Brook, Peter Hall and other 
illuminati of the Arts Council. Their directors all in due course came to 
grief at Stalin’s hands, as did Eisenstein, whose films, like Mother and 
The Battleship Potemkin , were part of the holy writ of all good Leftists. 
In the end, it was Stanislavsky alone who was given the Order of the 



Who Whom ? 253 

Red Banner and allowed to die in his bed. He, bourgeois of the bourgeois, 
flaunting to the end his soft black hat set rakishly on white locks, his 
astrakhan collar and flowing tie, as though he had just stepped out of 
the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. The only production other than a 
Stanislavsky one which sticks in my mind is Die Dreigroschenoper , put 
on by the Moscow Judische Art Theatre, long since liquidated. It was 
my first acquaintance with Brecht. 

Our stories from Moscow were increasingly concerned with the 
agricultural situation, which even the Soviet newspapers were featuring 
in, for them, a big way. In the circumstances, I decided that the best 
thing to do would be to have a go at visiting the agricultural areas in the 
Ukraine and the Caucasus by myself. Nowadays this would be quite 
impossible, since foreign journalists, like diplomats, have to get special 
authorisation to travel. Then, one could still, in theory at any rate, buy 
a railway ticket like anyone else. The odds were, of course, that one 
would be picked up at some point, but before this happened there was 
a chance of arriving unheralded somewhere, and talking to people other 
than under the shadow of the GPU. Actually, in my experience the 
Soviet security arrangements, once you get, as it were, off the moving 
stairway, are by no means as ruthlessly efficient as is commonly supposed. 
At a time when I had been persistently refused a visa to go to the 
USSR I happened to find myself in Peking, and on an impulse went 
into the Soviet Embassy there, and asked for a transit visa to stop off 
in Moscow on my way back to London. My passport was politely 
stamped, and handed back to me then and there; I stopped off in Moscow 
for ten days or so, without, as far as I could judge, my presence attracting 
any interest or attention. 

Even so, I doubt if I should have had the perseverance or courage to 
join the immensely long queues always waiting in front of the ticket 
office at Moscow Station. Happily for me, Natalia Dmitrievna took me 
under her wing, and by dint of pushing, shouting and seeming to be 
important, made her way to the top of the queue, and procured the 
requisite return ticket to Rostov, with the possibility of getting off the 
train anywhere along the way. 

The evening before I left there was a party at the British Embassy to 
which I went. Owing to the debourgeoisation of my wardrobe before 
leaving for the USSR, I had no appropriate clothes for such an occasion, 
and felt very self-conscious in a light grey suit, decidedly shabby, the 
only one I had. The ambassador was a man named Sir Esmond Ovey, 
a suave figure with brushed back grey hair and a small trimmed mous- 



254 The Green Stick 

tache. When I told him how my sartorial inadequacy had come about, he 
thought it very funny, and went on through the evening telling everyone 
he spoke to why I was so inappropriately dressed. I expect I deserved 
this. The only thing I can remember about Ovey is that he had a plan for 
solving the unemployment problem which on various occasions he 
tried to explain to me, no doubt calculating that The Guardian would be 
the ideal medium for launching such a proposal. Unfortunately, I never 
got the hang of it, maybe through my own inattention, or because he 
never managed to finish his exposition. So the plan must, I fear, have 
died with him. After Moscow, he was posted to Brussels. 

On this occasion I managed to escape from his clutches quite quickly, 
and withdrew to a sofa where I found myself sitting between Anna 
Louise Strong and Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent. 
Miss Strong was an enormous woman with a very red face, a lot of white 
hair, and an expression of stupidity so overwhelming that it amounted to 
a kind of strange beauty. When in years to come I embarked on that 
Via Dolorosa, the American lecture circuit, I was constantly reminded 
of her; looking down on my audience from the podium, I saw row upon 
row of Anna Louises, as eagerly waiting for some crumbs of enlighten- 
ment from me as she did from Oumansky, or Borodin (under whom she 
worked on the Moscow Daily News), or the great Stalin himself. She had 
been around in Moscow from shortly after the Revolution, and allegedly, 
finding herself once in a car with Trotsky, the great man put his hand 
on her knee in what might have been taken as an amorous gesture. 
Whether because of this past anti-Stalinist deviation, or for some other 
reason, in the stormy days of the cold war even she got arrested; an item 
of news which, I regret to say, like Oumansky’s fatal accident, gave 
great satisfaction among former newspaper correspondents in Moscow. 
Some of them even sent congratulatory telegrams signalising the glad 
tidings. Her incarceration proved to be brief - 1 imagine that even in 
Lubianka, her presence was burdensome - and she ended her days in 
Peking, where she was accorded a State funeral. A triumph of sheer 
staying power. 

Duranty, a little sharp-witted energetic man, was a much more 
controversial person; I should say there was more talk about him in 
Moscow than anyone else, certainly among foreigners. By origin he was 
an Englishman from Liverpool, which probably means he was Irish; a 
conclusion supported by his proneness to hint at aristocratic connections 
and classical learning, of which, I must say, he produced little evidence. 
One of his legs had been amputated after a train accident, but he was 



Who Whom? 255 

very agile at getting about with an artificial one. His household, where I 
visited him once or twice, included a Russian woman named Katya, by 
whom I believe he had a son. I always enjoyed his company; there was 
something vigorous, vivacious, preposterous, about his unscrupulous- 
ness which made his persistent lying somehow absorbing. I suppose no 
one -not even Louis Fischer - followed the Party Line, every shift 
and change, as assiduously as he did. In Oumansky’s eyes he was per- 
fect, and was constantly held up to the rest of us as an example of what 
we should be. 

It, of course, suited his material interests thus to write everything the 
Soviet authorities wanted him to - that collectivisation of agriculture 
was working well, with no famine conditions anywhere; that the purges 
were justified, the confessions genuine, and the judicial procedure im- 
peccable. Because of these acquiescent attitudes - so ludicrously false 
that they were a subject of derision among the other correspondents, 
and even Podolski had been known to make jokes about them - Duranty 
never had any trouble getting a visa, or a house, or interviews with 
whomever he wanted. His subservience to the Party Line was so com- 
plete that it was even rumoured that he was being blackmailed by the 
Soviet authorities. Yet I do not myself think he was just a simple crook; 
in some strange way, his upholding of the Soviet regime was, besides 
being materially advantageous, a response to some need of his nature. 
Not, I hasten to add, because he believed in the Revolution, or in its 
beneficial consequences to Russia or to mankind - anything like that. 
Quite the contrary; I think he despised all that sort of apologetics, 
indulged in by Fischer and still more by Anna Louise Strong, more than 
anyone. 

No, he admired Stalin and the regime precisely because they were so 
strong and ruthless. ‘I put my money on Stalin,’ was one of his favourite 
sayings. It was the sheer power generated that appealed to him; he 
was always remarking on how big Russia was, how numerous Russians 
were. Thus, for instance, in this last conversation I was ever to have 
with him, we got on to the subject of the agricultural situation and the 
famine. He admitted there was an appalling food shortage, if not a 
famine (something, incidentally, no one could have deduced from his 
messages to the New York Times, which were in an exactly contrary 
sense), but, he said, banging the sides of the sofa, remember that you 
can’t make omelettes without cracking eggs - another favourite saying. 
They’ll win, he went on; they’re bound to win. If necessary, they’ll 
harness the peasants to the ploughs, but I tell you they’ll get the harvest 



256 The Green Stick 

in and feed the people that matter. The people that mattered were the 
men in the Kremlin and all their underlings; the men in the factories 
and the armed forces; us, too, the elite. The others were just serfs; 
reserves of the proletariat, as Stalin called them. Some would die, 
surely, perhaps even quite a lot; but there were enough and to spare in 
all conscience. It might have been a Burra Sahib talking about the 
natives. 

I had the feeling, listening to this outburst, that in thus justifying 
Soviet brutality and ruthlessness, Duranty was in some way getting his 
own back for being small, and losing a leg, and not having the aristo- 
cratic lineage and classical education he claimed to have. This is pro- 
bably, in the end, the only real basis of the appeal of such regimes as 
Stalin’s, and later Hitler’s; they compensate for weakness and in- 
adequacy. It is also why their particular ideologies - Mein Kampf , Das 
Kapitaly The Thoughts of Chairman Mao - are, in themselves, of no 
significance. Duranty was a little browbeaten boy looking up admiringly 
at a big bully. By the same token, if the New York Times went on all 
those years giving great prominence to Duranty’s messages, building 
him and them up when they were so evidently nonsensically untrue, to 
the point that he came to be accepted as the great Russian expert in 
America, and played a major part in shaping President Roosevelt’s 
policies vis-d-vis the USSR - this was not, we may be sure, because the 
Times was deceived. Rather, because it wanted to be so deceived, and 
Duranty provided the requisite deception material. Since his time, there 
have been a whole succession of others fulfilling the same role - in Cuba, 
in Vietnam, in Latin America. It is an addiction, and in such cases there 
is never any lack of hands to push in the needle and give the fix. Just 
as the intelligentsia have been foremost in the struggle to abolish 
intelligence, so the great organs of capitalism like the New York Times 
have spared no expense or effort to ensure that capitalism will not 
survive. 

My journey to Rostov remains in my mind as a nightmare memory. 
The worn railway compartment, with glasses of tea endlessly served; 
other passengers coming and going, mostly party officials (who else 
could afford to travel first-class?), very companionable and amiable and 
ready to listen to my rudimentary Russian, but shutting up at once if I 
brought up the subject of what was going on outside. Then, their faces 
stony and expressionless again. Men in leather coats with briefcases, 
sucking at cigarettes, clearly used to giving orders and to being treated 
with deference in the Forestry Department, or the Audit Department, 



Who Whom? 257 

or I daresay in the GPU Department, but that also were unmentionable. 
The restaurant car, likewise cosy, with meals pleasantly served and 
plenty of vodka. There, too, the outside pleasantly remote, except for 
one intrusion; a bearded moujik in a padded coat, very drunk and wild 
looking, suddenly appeared, shouting out something- some sort of 
protest, I suppose, but I couldn't understand what. He was quickly 
disposed of; frog-marched out, still protesting. 

It was tempting not to get down at any stations along the way as I had 
planned, but just to continue in the train. By comparison with its warmth 
and snugness, the stations looked very uninviting. I had no contacts, 
no transport, nowhere to go; the moment one arranged these amenities, 
one was back in Oumansky's charge. However, I did break my journey 
several times, and can never forget what I saw. It was not just a famine. 
No one, alas, news-gathering about the world in our time can fail to have 
seen quite a lot of famine. In India, in Berlin, in Africa - people picking 
over garbage, scrabbling about in rubble, maybe in their desperation 
cannibalising one another; swollen or skeletal, with huge stomachs sus- 
pended between bony arms and ribs, and heads that, while still alive, are 
already skulls. This particular famine was planned and deliberate; not 
due to any natural catastrophe like failure of rain, or cyclone, or flooding. 
An administrative famine brought about by the forced collectivisation 
of agriculture; an assault on the countryside by party apparatchiks - the 
very men I*d been chatting so amiably with in the train - supported by 
strong-arm squads from the military and the police. 

As I wrote in The Guardian , in the course of three articles of mine that 
appeared on 25, 27 and 28 March, 1933: ‘To say that there is famine in 
some of the most fertile parts of Russia is to say much less than the truth; 
there is not only famine, but a state of war, a military occupation.' The 
articles were held up to follow a series by Voigt on the Terror in the 
Polish Ukraine, and were run side by side with another series by him on 
the Nazi Terror, by way, I imagine, of neutralising some of their effect. 
In them I tried to describe it all - the abandoned villages, the absence of 
livestock, neglected fields; everywhere famished, frightened people and 
intimations of coercion, soldiers about the place, and hard-faced men in 
long overcoats. One particularly remarkable scene I stumbled on by 
chance at a railway station in the grey early morning; peasants with their 
hands tied behind them being loaded into cattle trucks at gun-point (this, 
incidentally, was the nearest I came to being in trouble myself; I 
was angrily told to make off, which I hurriedly did, fortunately 
without having to disclose myself as a foreign journalist); all so 

C.W.T.— R 



258 The Green Stick 

silent and mysterious and horrible in the half-light, like some macabre 
ballet. 

Reading the articles over again, they seem very inadequate in con- 
veying the horror of it all, which far surpassed just the human misery. 
Rien de plus dangereux , Taine writes, qu'une idle glnlrale dans des 
cerveaux Itroits et vides . Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture was just 
such a general idea in a narrow empty mind, pursued to the uttermost 
limit, without reference to any other consideration, whether of individual 
or collective humanity. To be oppressed by an individual tyrant is 
terrible enough; by an enraged deity, as the Old Testament tells us, even 
more terrible; but Taine is right when he contends that the worst of all 
fates is to be oppressed by a general idea. This was the fate of the 
Russian peasants, as it is, increasingly, the fate of us all in the twentieth 
century. 

As it happened, no other foreign journalist had been into the famine 
areas in the USSR except under official auspices and supervision, so my 
account was by way of being exclusive. This brought me no kudos, and 
many accusations of being a liar, in The Guardian correspondence 
columns and elsewhere. I had to wait for Khruschev - who surely knew 
the truth if anyone did, having been himself one of the chief terrorists in 
the Ukraine - for official confirmation. Indeed, according to him, my 
account was considerably under-stated. If the matter is a subject of 
controversy hereafter, a powerful voice on the other side will be 
Duranty’s, highlighted in the New York Times , insisting on those 
granaries overflowing with grain, those apple-cheeked dairymaids and 
plump contented cows, not to mention Shaw and all the other dis- 
tinguished visitors who testified that there was not, and could not be, a 
food shortage in the USSR. I doubt if even Khruschev’s testimony, let 
alone mine, will weigh against such honourable and distinguished 
witnesses. 

In Kiev, where I found myself on a Sunday morning, on an impulse I 
turned into a church where a service was in progress. It was packed 
tight, but I managed to squeeze myself against a pillar whence I could 
survey the congregation and look up at the altar. Young and old, peasants 
and townsmen, parents and children, even a few in uniform - it was a 
variegated assembly. The bearded priests, swinging their incense, in- 
toning their prayers, seemed very remote and far away. Never before 
or since have I participated in such worship; the sense conveyed of 
turning to God in great affliction was overpowering. Though I could 



Who Whom? 259 

not, of course, follow the service, I knew from Klavdia Lvovna little 
bits of it; for instance, where the congregation say there is no help for 
them save from God. What intense feeling they put into these words! In 
their minds, I knew, as in mine, was a picture of those desolate aban- 
doned villages, of the hunger and the hopelessness, of the cattle trucks 
being loaded with humans in the dawn light. Where were they to turn 
for help? Not to the Kremlin, and the Diclatorship of the Proletariat, 
certainly; nor to the forces of progress and democracy and enlightenment 
in the West. Honourable and Right Honourable Members had nothing 
to offer; Gauche Radicale unforthcoming, free press Duranty’s pulpit. 
Every possible human agency found wanting. So, only God remained, 
and to God they turned with a passion, a dedication, a humility, im- 
possible to convey. They took me with them; I felt closer to God then 
than I ever had before, or am likely to again. 

From Rostov I went to visit a German agricultural concession in the 
Kuban district of the North Caucasus, which had rather surprisingly 
survived from the early post-war years. It was like going abroad. 
Everything was completely different; the fields, the cowsheds, the 
piggeries, all in perfect order. I found it difficult to believe I was still in 
the USSR. A Bavarian in a green knickerbocker suit with a feather in his 
hat showed me round. Sensing, perhaps, that my attention was flagging, 
he asked me whether I was really interested in Landwirtschaft. I replied 
that I had to admit to being no specialist, but that I could not fail to 
notice how conditions in the concession contrasted with those outside. 
He agreed, and said that in consequence of the famine conditions all 
round them, they had been faced with a constant stream of famished 
peasants looking for work and food. In the evening I sat with him and a 
number of other Germans, all of them healthy and jovial and friendly 
and hospitable. While we were talking, one of them brought out a map, 
showing me just where the concession was situated, and going on to 
point out, d propos of nothing, how large the USSR was, and how rich 
agriculturally and in minerals. There was something vaguely ominous 
and menacing as his strong, short forefinger went moving about the 
map. Then someone turned on the radio, managing to get a German 
transmission. The news was that Hitler had become Chancellor. I had 
not been following the papers for some time, so it took me by surprise, 
‘How terrible!* I said, or something like that, expecting them to agree. 
They were, after all, professional people, agricultural experts, tech- 
nicians; the sort of Germans, one assumed, who would find Hitler and 
his Nazis ridiculous and abhorrent. On the contrary, I could see that 



260 The Green Stick 

they were delighted It was a good thing, they said; no doubt they and 
their class would once again lose everything they had, as had happened 
before; but this time Germany would recover her strength and resume 
her history. I had little inclination to argue, and, pleading tiredness, 
retired to bed. After I had gone they would, I felt sure, let their exalta- 
tion have free play; shaking hands, slapping one another on the back, 
drinking toasts. Late at night, I heard them, shouting and singing up- 
roariously. Thenceforth, I never doubted that another war was in- 
escapable. 

When I got back to Moscow I found a telegram from Kitty telling 
me that we had another son. I managed to telephone to her, and we 
agreed that they should not come to Moscow. She told me that a chalet 
in Switzerland was available to us if we would run it as a guest-house for 
the Workers* Travel Association, a Labour Party tourist-agency with 
which my father was associated. It seemed a perfect solution, and we 
arranged delightedly all four of us now, to meet in Montreux. There 
seemed nothing left for me to do except write my articles about my 
visit to the Ukraine and the Caucasus, which I proceeded to do, getting 
them off by diplomatic bag unseen by Oumansky. When they were 
published, I should, I knew, have my visa withdrawn. 

As it turned out, there was one last story to cover. The news got 
around in Moscow that some British engineers working on construction 
projects for the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company in the USSR 
had been arrested, and were to be charged with sabotage and espionage, 
the chief of them being Allan Monkhouse, Paddy’s cousin. I made use 
of this relationship in telephoning cryptic messages to The Guardian in 
the hope of thereby evading the censorship. Our first efforts to get news 
out by the usual channels met with a blank refusal. At the Press Depart- 
ment they said no arrests had taken place, and denied all knowledge of 
police raids on Metro-Vickers premises. In our fury and disgust at thus 
being deprived of our legitimate sustenance, we did something un- 
precedented, and late at night invaded the home of the censor on duty - 
who happened to be Ehrens. It was a cosy enough little apartment, with 
a wedding group in a silver frame, and crimson plush curtains, and a sofa 
with two round salmon-pink cushions on it, and a souvenir from Berne in 
the shape of a Swiss peasant doll. Ehrens appeared, to let us in, wearing 
pyjamas and a short embroidered coat with frogs, rather like a bands- 
man’s tunic. We crowded in angrily, as though we were an insurrection; 
banging the table, shouting. The collectivisation famine, the Terror and 
the Purge, the Torgsin shops and the long queues outside the food shops 



Who Whom? 261 

- all this, with some effort, we could take in our stride. But to be denied 
a story bound to get front-page treatment everywhere! That was too 
much. Poor Ehrens, too, was really troubled. What would the neighbours 
think? A GPU visitation? He pleaded with us to withdraw while he 
telephoned, which we did, standing in the passage outside until he 
had finished. Then he called us back to say that the bare facts of the 
arrests having been made could be telegraphed, and nothing more. We 
grudgingly and grumblingly accepted this meagre concession. I felt 
rather a Judas myself in the knowledge that, as I thought, my cryptic 
telephone call to Paddy Monkhouse some hours before would have given 
The Guardian an exclusive story. I need not have worried; only a drastic- 
ally cut and sub-edited version of my coverage of the Metro-Vickers 
story appeared in the paper. 

Later, Allan Monkhouse was released on bail, and we were called to 
the British Embassy to meet him. He turned out to be a quiet, solid sort 
of man who patiently answered questions of the kind that journalists, 
especially Americans, ask - How old was he? Married? Any children? 
How long in Russia? - to gain time before putting the serious ones they 
know won’t be answered anyway. Like a juggler desultorily bouncing his 
little balls preparatory to getting them all into the air at the same time. 
It was a gentle enough curtain-raiser to what followed - the great Purge 
of the thirties mounted by Stalin; one of the most gruesome and 
macabre happenings even of our time, involving, according to Robert 
Conquest’s careful estimate in his book The Great Terror , some twenty 
million souls. 

In itself, the Metro-Vickers affair was rather a minor episode in this 
protracted grand-guignol, but it attracted a great deal of attention outside 
the USSR because of the appearance of foreign nationals among the 
accused. The brightly-lit court, the mechanically repeated confessions, 
the spectators baying in unison for the death penalty, the ravings and 
howlings of the Public Prosecutor, formerly Krylenko, and now Andrey 
Vyshinsky, subsequently eloquent Soviet spokesman at the UN - it was 
all to become part of twentieth-century folk-lore. Spreading in different 
versions throughout the world; to Leipzig for the Reichstag Fire Trial, 
to Nuremberg and Tokyo for the War Crimes Tribunals, to Washington 
for the Un-American Activities Committee, etc., etc., until it seemed that 
history itself had become a trial, at which, in Cholerton’s words, 
everything was true except the facts. All the world’s a trial, and all the 
men and women in the dock; Who whom? boiling down to Who’s 
trying Whom? 



262 The Green Stick 



Even now it is difficult to grasp the magnitude of what happened; a 
stupendous horror film conceived in the narrow, suspicious mind of 
Stalin, and produced and directed by him, in which every single Soviet 
citizen, from the Baltic to Vladivostok, willy-nilly participated, whether 
as extras, or with speaking parts. In Moscow one sensed the omnipresent 
fear in frightened, furtive eyes; sniffed the sour body-smell it gave out, 
which still, after all these years, remains with me. The endless interro- 
gations; interrogators themselves in time interrogated, until no one 
knew who was confessing what to whom, who were the judges and who 
the accused. A fearsome morality play in which it had to be inter- 
minably demonstrated that, the system being perfect, as were all who 
had been submitted to the great baptism of the Revolution, any im- 
perfection, whether in the system, or in individual beneficiaries of it, 
could only be due to malign stratagems, saboteurs, wreckers; to plots and 
subornings and conspiracies engineered by the powers of darkness - 
capitalists, imperialists, colonialists and their running dogs. 

And how could the denizens of this dark, sub-human underworld find 
the strength to impede and frustrate the working out of Lenin-Stalin’s 
revolutionary purpose? Only, obviously, when their efforts were 
reinforced by the very Revolution-makers themselves; all the Old 
Bolsheviks, who, one after the other, were required to make their public 
acts of penitence, beating their breasts, confessing their sins and mis- 
demeanours, and receiving at the hands of a firing squad their just 
quittance. So the Revolution consumed its own children, reaching even 
outside its boundaries, and striking down a Trotsky in far-off Mexico. 
Power has its own mysticism of violence, symbolised in the USSR by 
what Stalin called the ‘Flaming Sword of the Proletariat*; wielded on 
his behalf by the secret police, ever changing the initials of their name 
(Cheka, GPU, NKVD, KGB), one boss succeeding another (Dzer- 
zhinsky, Jagoda, Yezhov, Beria; dreaded names until, in their turn, the 
purgers were purged), yet always remaining the same. As God’s 
Flaming Sword was set at the entrance to the Garden of Eden to keep out 
the fallen children of men, so Stalin’s barred the fallen children of the 
Revolution from his paradise. There was no need to set up a counter- 
revolution in the USSR; Stalin was his own counter-revolution. 

As my increasingly hostile attitude to the regime became more apparent, 
my reception in the Press Department was correspondingly cold and 
hostile. Lost for ever now was my position of favourite son, as a prot£g6 
of the Blessed Webbs, and contributor to the beneficent columns of the 



Who Whom? 263 

Manchester Guardian. I was the more surprised, therefore, to receive an 
invitation to dine with Oumansky, which, of course, I readily accepted. 
The occasion was set for the evening before my departure from Moscow, 
and the place the Spirodonovka, a former rich merchant’s house which 
had been requisitioned intact, to be used for government hospitality, 
with all the furniture, d£cor, and other fittings kept just as they were. 
Such invitations were very rarely accorded to foreign journalists; not 
even to the tamest (in Soviet Double-Speak, most objective), like Louis 
Fischer or Duranty; least of all, one would have thought, to someone like 
myself who had proved, in the regime’s terms, unreliable and unhelpful. 
Those that are not against us are for us, Podolski once remarked, 
smirking over some statement by an Anglican dignitary to the effect that 
if Christ were alive to-day he would probably be a communist. Even on 
that basis, I was an enemy now. Why, then, the invitation to dinner? 
Was it that Oumansky had some notion of plucking a brand from the 
burning? Or, at any rate, of moderating excesses of hostility I might 
indulge in on leaving the USSR? Or was it just that he saw a chance of 
having a good dinner for once? If so, a very human calculation. Or - an 
outside possibility - that he genuinely wanted to make a gesture of 
friendship before we parted, probably not to see one another ever again? 
An unspoken recognition on his part that my changed attitude repre- 
sented a genuinely reached conclusion, not an interested calculation? 
Some support was given to this possibility by a remark he made to me; 
he had, he said, formed the impression when I first came to the USSR 
that I believed in nothing, whereas I went away believing in something. 
Yes, but in what? He didn’t say, and I didn’t know -then. Poor 
Oumansky, he was a sort of Soviet version of Maupassant’s hero, 
Bel-Ami. It would be nice to think that the invitation was some sort of 
friendly gesture. 

Oumansky was waiting for me at Spirodonovka when I arrived. He 
showed me over the house, which, he explained, had been built by a rich 
merchant; in very bad taste, of course, he added, but still use could be 
made of it. I followed him from room to room; tall, dimly lighted rooms, 
heavy with coloured marble; a decor of gold fleurs-de-lys on a blue 
background, with frail gilt candelabra hung from the ceiling. Oumansky, 
I could see, loved the house, and took great delight in showing it off - 
more so, perhaps, than in showing off the Dneprostroi Dam. The only 
other guest was Nehman, who had brought his photograph album to 
show me. We sat looking at it side by side on one of the delicate gold and 
blue sofas; so delicate that I half expected it to break under our weight 



264 The Green Stick 

and movements. There were a lot of snapshots of Nehman, his wife, and 
their little son wearing a sailor suit, on a Black Sea beach. I duly 
admired them. Then the three of us went into dinner. 

The table was set for us in the centre of a black and white Japanese 
room, with many mirrors reflecting an endless series of Oumansky, 
Nehman and me. We sat underneath a massive candelabrum whose light 
shone down on us; again, a preview of television locations-to-be. The 
light, as it seemed, brought the confused pattern on the walls to life, so 
that it looked as though it was in perpetual motion; rippling and pulsat- 
ing like a surface of dark water in a wind. Passfield had been, as I sup- 
posed, my last glimpse of snug bourgeois life; this was to be my last 
glimpse of proletarian life, and I wanted similarly to imprint the scene 
on my mind. As course followed course, and drink followed drink, my 
senses began to dissolve. I felt myself becoming absorbed into the 
Japanese room; the rippling, pulsating walls were closing in on me, as in 
an Edgar Allan Poe story; the mirrors revealed a long, long corridor 
along which I trudged, with no end in sight. The figure of Oumansky 
loomed up across the table, misty and remote. There was a question that 
I desperately wanted to put to him, but every time I got it into suitable 
shape, somehow or other he was off on another tack. 

My question was, of course: Who whom? The only question to put 
concerning matters of power; all the other related ones, like justice, 
equality, freedom, representation, and so on, being diversionary. ‘Yes, 
but look here, Oumansky, Who whom? 1 Did I actually say it, or only 
mutter it into my glass? Or just envisage saying it? I can’t be sure - 1 
was rather drunk by this time - but I do remember Oumansky going on 
about how, when the Provisional Government of Kerensky fell, the 
power passed to the broad masses, whence, via the first Congress 
of Soviets it found its way to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and, 
under the inspired leadership of Comrade Stalin and the Communist 
Party . . . 

Did I then rudely interrupt with: ‘No, but seriously, Oumansky, Who 
whom?’ I doubt it, but something must have happened, for I swear that 
Oumansky’s dissertation, as it were, changed gear. He dropped his voice 
to take on a more confidential note, explaining how the broad masses are 
like children; they need a father, a dictatorship of themselves; a force that 
is them, but that, working apart from them, makes it possible for every- 
thing to be subordinated to their interests. Any other force must, by its 
very nature, deceive and enslave them. It alone . . . 

Perhaps he did say something of this sort, but it can’t surely be true 



Who Whom? 265 

that, as I seemed to remember in my fuddled mind the following day, I 
once more interrupted, this time to say, pleadingly: ‘Please, Oumansky; 
Who whom?’, to which he replied, whispering softly, so that not even 
Nehman sitting with us could hear, but I just could: ‘I theyP 

It was time, anyway, for me to go. Oumansky and Nehman came to 
the door to see me off, as the Webbs and the two Scottish maids had at 
Passfield. As I walked unsteadily away, I could hear Oumansky say: 
‘Good-bye and bonne chanceY He liked speaking French; it befitted a 
diplomat, as it did his pre-Revolution prototype. ‘ Bonne chance to you!’ 
I shouted back over my shoulder. Before returning to my hotel I took a 
few turns round the Red Square. The place was deserted except for the 
soldiers with fixed bayonets on duty outside Lenin’s tomb. I walked 
briskly; breathing in the icy air cleared my head. Suddenly, I thought I 
noticed a change in the wind that was blowing against my face. It 
seemed to be touched with warmth and fragrance, as though spring was 
already beginning. An extraordinary feeling of happiness welled up in 
me. Soon the river would thaw, the earth be green again. Thus it had 
happened a million times before, thus it would happen a million times 
again. Nothing could prevent it - the sudden, unexpected coming of 
spring. I filled my lungs ravenously. 

I left the USSR via Riga, then the capital of an independent Latvia, 
breaking my journey at Leningrad, where, on an impulse, having some 
hours to spare, I decided to go and look for Dostoevsky’s grave. It was 
by no means an easy quest. I found the cemetery where he was buried 
easily enough, but when I asked where his grave was, no one seemed 
prepared to give me any information other than pointing vaguely. At last, 
after much laborious spelling out of the names on tombstones, I 
did manage to locate it. The grave and the monument had a neglected, 
untended appearance, which was not really surprising since, fol- 
lowing Lenin’s view, the Party Line had pronounced anathema upon 
Dostoevsky as a reactionary who had rejected and ridiculed the very 
notion of progress and of Socialism. I wondered if anyone else had come 
there of late to do him reverence. Anyway, I was glad to take off my 
hat and stand for a while in silence, honouring his memory in the strange 
circumstances which had befallen his country - circumstances he had so 
uncannily prophesied in The Possessed , the book that of all others had 
been most in my mind during my time in the USSR. 

What a scene it must have been, I reflected, at that very place when 
he died some half century before! What a turn-out of the great and the 
celebrated! He who, in his famous Pushkin Memorial speech, had pro- 



266 The Green Stick 

claimed the great destiny of the Slav peoples to overthrow the corrupt, 
decadent civilisation of the West, and bring to pass a new, glorious era of 
Christendom reborn! Who had so brilliantly and devastatingly exposed 
the vain hopes and destructive purposes of the liberal mind, and, in the 
character of Raskolnikov, created its very prototype. Who, when he spoke 
of how now Russians must look to their roads southwards, had every 
general jumping in the air until his medals shook; every archbishop 
dancing about, his tall black hat askew. I could see it all, the carriages 
waiting, the exquisite ladies in veils, the splendid vestments of the 
officiating priests. And now just me! 

But wait a minute. Go forward another forty years, to 1971, the 
150th anniversary of Dostoevsky’s birth, and lo! it turns out that Lenin 
put Dostoevsky only second to Tolstoy in a list he prepared of the 
greatest Russian writers, and that the judgement that ‘Dostoevsky could 
not be in accord with our epoch was one of the errors of our young 
society, those errors which, in their own time, had their own truth and 
logic.’ (Let other Mirskys, scavenging with their pens, watch out!) With 
the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia also suitably adjusted, there could well 
be another turn-out no less brilliant. As for the grave I found so neglected 
- it would surprise me if by this time it had not been refurbished. 

Among several pieces I wrote about the USSR which never got 
published was one entitled ‘Red Imperialism’, in which I argued that the 
cause of liberating the toiling masses could lend itself just as well to 
Dostoevsky’s brand of Slav imperialism as the notion of liberating 
Christians from the Ottoman yoke. In those days, with the worthy 
Litvinov advocating total disarmament whenever he had a chance, and 
every pacifist and internationalist cause sure of a warm endorsement in 
Moscow, my suggestion seemed too absurd. To-day, no one would print 
the piece because it would seem too banal. When I read in the docu- 
ments from the archives of the German Foreign Office published in 
1948 of the conversations between Hitler and Molotov relating to the 
Nazi-Soviet Pact, I realised that Dostoevsky would have found in 
Stalin’s emissary an exponent of his views far more resolute and un- 
scrupulous than any Czar; and one no less concerned than he was about 
roads going southwards. 

Walking away, I noticed another funeral in progress; the coffin lifted 
off a red hearse, and the little group of mourners raising their hats while 
it was lowered into the grave. Some were in tears, and there was the 
same embarrassed expression on the faces of the less involved that one 



Who Whom ? 267 

sees at all funerals. One of their number delivered a short exhortation, 
to which the others listened impassively. Dust to dust; or, in this case, a 
comrade who had faithfully followed Lenin’s way, now departing. It 
was soon over, and the mourners dispersed, leaving the grave-diggers 
to fill in the grave. 

There were not many passengers on the train to Riga. As we ap- 
proached the Latvian-Soviet frontier, all of us with one accord went into 
the corridor to stare at the soldiers in their long grey great-coats, red 
stars on their caps, guarding it. Then, when we were safely in Latvian 
territory, we all began spontaneously to laugh and shout and shake our 
fists at the sentries. We were out, we were free. It was one of the 
strangest demonstrations of the kind I have ever been involved in. 
Subsequently, I have seen many Soviet frontiers, with barbed-wire, 
and land-mines, and dogs; with armed sentries in watch-towers ready 
to shoot on sight, like prison guards. All designed, not so much to bar 
people from coming in, as to prevent those inside from getting out. 
How strange, I have often reflected, that a regime which needs thus to 
pen up its citizens should nonetheless be able to make itself seem desir- 
able to admirers outside. As though the purpose in taking the Bastille 
should have been to gain admission there and do a stretch. 

The buffet at Riga Station seemed momentarily like paradise; the 
crisp rolls and butter, the piles of fruit, the luscious cheeses and suc- 
culent ham - who could ever believe in such plenty? My euphoria soon 
passed. Man cannot live by buffets alone, and the angels in this paradise 
were puffy, pasty men carrying briefcases instead of harps, with their 
beatitudes securely tucked away in wallets in their hip-pockets. On 
my way to Berlin, where I proposed stopping off for two days, my 
spirits steadily fell. I was, I felt, returning on my tracks; going deeper 
and deeper back into the bourgeois world I thought I had discarded for 
ever. Its very affluence made it the more abhorrent; I was a prodigal 
son puking over his fatted calf. 

In Berlin the Nazi storm-troopers were out in the streets marking 
Jewish shops, and beating up their owners and anyone else who dis- 
pleased them. Mostly not quite young; burly in their brown shirts, 
with incipient paunches filling out their breeches. The females likewise 
in brown, with blond plaits and pink cheeks, but also inclined to be 
outsize; more like women policemen than Rhine maidens. The city 
was hushed; like a theatre when the lights have been lowered preparatory 
to the curtain going up. Its glossy porn was still on display, and the 
transvestite shows still tunning; but the steam had gone out of it all. 



268 The Green Stick 

To paraphrase Grey’s alleged famous observation, they were shutting 
down the sex-supermarkets all over Germany, but we should, alas, see 
them opened again in our time. As for the then hippy model, the Wan - 
dervogel , in decorated braces, twanging their Lauten , and going ever 
writer im Blau , further into the Blue -they had all become Hitler- 
jugend, and were marching and saluting and shouting in unison. 

Always gloomy, Berlin seemed now under a permanent thunder 
cloud, a place of doom. I was not to see it again until 1945, when it was 
just an expanse of rubble, with occasional jagged fragments of buildings 
rising stark against the sky. If one looked carefully one could see that 
people were actually living in the rubble, having carved out for them- 
selves little caves and cubby holes for dwellings, where they carried on 
commerce of a kind, with, for currency, cigarettes and spam, as well as 
their own bodies, if negotiable. I was reminded of the scene in the first 
pictures from the moon. Then, ten years later, back again, and this time 
I was amazed to find that a magical city of glass and lights, a Disney 
Deutschland, was rapidly rising; cafes crowded with solid citizens 
smoking cigars, sipping cognac; glossy pom back in the kiosks, Schlag 
back in the coffee, transvestites back in business. A city reborn. Or was 
it all done with mirrors? I am not certain even now. 

I wrote to Crozier: ‘From the way you’ve cut my messages about the 
Metro-Vickers affair, I realise that you don’t want to know what’s going 
on in Russia, or to let your readers know. If it had been an oppressed 
minority, or subject people valiantly struggling to be free, that would 
have been another matter. Then any amount of outspokenness, any 
amount of honesty.* I went on to describe the scene in Berlin, and the 
Nazis beating up Jewish shops, and everyone with his story of murder 
and folly, and concluded: ‘It’s silly to say the Brown Terror is worse 
than the Red Terror. They’re both horrible. They’re both Terrors. 
I watched the Nazis march along Unter den Linden and realised - of 
course, they’re Komsomols, the same people, the same faces. It’s the 
same show.’ David Ayerst quotes this correspondence in his book on The 
Guardian , and says it read ‘like a letter to end all communication’. So it 
did; I was finished with moderate men of all shades of opinion for 
evermore. 

Montreux Station in the very early morning waiting for Kitty seemed 
about as far away from the USSR and Oumansky, from Berlin and the 
storm-troopers out in the streets, as it was possible to be. The coffee so 
hot and fragrant, the rolls so crisp, the butter so creamy; the waiter so 



Who Whom? 269 

obliging, his hair so sleek and black, his face so sallow, his coat so fresh 
and spotlessly white. Everything and everyone so solid and so durable. 
Even Kitty’s train, roaring in exactly on time, was part of the omni- 
present orderliness. There is always a dread on such occasions that 
somehow the rendezvous will not be kept; that arrangements which 
seemed so precise will somehow have gone awry. So one studies the 
gathering faces with mounting anxiety; every sort of face showing up 
except the particular one in question, until, at last, there it is; unmistak- 
able, unique, infinitely dear. Waving to Kitty in the distance when I see 
her, holding one son’s hand and another son in her arms, a Shakespear- 
ean tag comes into my mind: ‘Hang there like fruit, dear heart, till the 
tree rot.* What is love but a face, instantly recognisable in a sea of 
faces? A spotlight rather than a panning shot? This in contradistinction 
to power, which is a matter of numbers, of crowd scenes. I heard of 
an inscription on a stone set up in North Africa which reads: T, the 
captain of a Legion of Rome, have learnt and pondered this truth, that 
there are in life but two things, love and power, and no man can have 
both.* Some twenty centuries later, I append my own amen. 

We extravagantly hired a car to take us to Rossini&re, where our 
chalet was, climbing up the still snow-covered valley under a blue sky 
and in bright sunshine. I took stock of our new son, very robust and 
hearty, and renewed my acquaintance with the older one, who even then 
had the air of slight aloofness and detachment, of being vaguely sur- 
prised at finding himself in so strange a place as this world, and in the 
strange company it offers, which characterises those who from the 
beginning walk with God. There we were, reunited, in the seemingly 
secure peace and security of the Canton de Vaud, with the rumblings 
of the wrath to come that I had unmistakably heard, well out of earshot. 
It was a moment of great happiness; as though, having found each 
other, we should never again be separated. As though, having found a 
blue sky, there would be no more grey ones; breathing in this fresh, 
clear mountain air, no more smog. 

Such moments of happiness, looked back on, shine like beacons, light- 
ing up past time, and making it glow with a great glory. Recollecting them, 
I want to jump up and shout aloud in gratitude at having been allowed 
to live in this world, sharing with all its creatures the blessed gift of life. 
Alienation is to be isolated and imprisoned in the tiny dark dungeon of 
the ego; happiness to find the world a home and mankind a family, to 
see our earth as a nest snugly perched in the universe, and all its 
creatures as fellow-participants in the warmth and security it offers. Its 



270 The Green Stick 

very components, the very twigs and mud of which it is made, likewise 
participating. Then, indeed, all the world in a grain of sand, eternity in 
an hour, infinity grasped in one’s hand. So, such moments of happiness 
comprehend a larger ecstasy, and our human loves reach out into the 
furthermost limits of time and space, and beyond, expressing the 
lovingness that is at the heart of all creation. Curiously enough, of 
all people, it was of Karl Marx I thought as we rode joyously up to 
Rossini£re; recalling how in one of his letters he describes to his wife the 
longing he has to return to Paris, where the family were then living, after 
one of his interminable quarrelsome conferences, and how the only 
lasting and satisfying joy he knows is to be with them and see around 
him their dear familiar faces. The memory of this letter stayed with me, 
I suppose, because of the contrast it offers with the efforts made in his 
name to promote the happiness of all mankind; in the result, so desolating, 
so bloody and so futile. Poor old Jewish enrag£, whose furious indigna- 
tion was to rumble and echo through the world for years to come - he, 
too, gratefully flying back to his nest. 

Our chalet - called the Chalet de la Colline - turned out to be rather 
a large one which had only lately been completed. It seemed that the 
Englishman who had built it ran out of money, and the Workers’ Travel 
Association took it over to run as a guest-house. Happily, none of the 
guests were due to arrive for some little while, and we had it to ourselves. 
There was a marvellous view up the valley, and the owner had left 
behind quite a good library, including A la recherche du temps perdu y 
which I settled down to read slowly and systematically. For Kitty, it was 
old territory. She was born at Chateau d’Oex, the next place to Ros- 
sinifere; at the Pension Rosat, still presided over by Madame Rosat, a 
stem, ageless lady. We went to pay our respects to her, and she remem- 
bered Mrs Dobbs well, saying of her, I thought with great acumen: 
4 Elle est tris intellectuelle ; elle voyage beaucoup .* It just about summed 
her up. Most afternoons we walked a mile or so up the valley and then 
back. As the snow melted, the spring flowers, no less white, came out 
to take its place. 

There are always ideal circumstances for reading any book, which 
should, perhaps, be indicated on the dust-jacket, along with particulars 
of the author and the subject. Rossiniire was ideal for reading Proust, 
and whenever I think of Charlus or Swann or Odette or Albertine, the 
road up the valley to Chateau d’Oex, and the flowers, and the cow- 
bells sounding as the cattle were taken to the mountain pasture, come 



Who Whom ? 271 

into my mind. I quite enjoyed the book, but not overwhelmingly; 
not at all as I did, for instance, Pascal and Constant and La Fontaine 
when I came to read them. The long maundering sentences, the pre- 
vailing flavour of snobbishness and perversity, of a sick mind at work, 
detracted from my enjoyment, even though I had to recognise the book’s 
genius of a kind. Its great appeal to intelligentsia of all denominations, 
who have praised it inordinately, has been due, I suspect, to Proust’s 
being yet another celebrant of a lost bourgeoisie. I should never be 
surprised to find a televised version of A la recherche du temps perdu 
enjoying as great and widespread a success as The Forsyte Saga , es- 
pecially in the communist countries and Japan. The great literary quest 
of the twentieth century has been for writers with authentic avant garde 
credentials and strongly conservative, if not reactionary, predilections. 
Proust filled this role perfectly. So did Yeats and Pound, both of whom 
were overtly fascist in tendency; in Pound’s case, in practice as well. 
Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, Hemingway, Aldous Huxley, too, and even 
Orwell in his odd way, came into this category. Most of the political 
heroes of our time have been of the Left, from Rosa Luxemburg to Che 
Guevara, and most of the literary ones of the Right. A two-way Trahison 
des Clercs , or double- Judas act. 

Apart from Proust, my mind was endlessly preoccupied with thoughts 
of the Soviet regime. I felt furious about the whole experience, as though 
I had been personally cheated, and poured out my righteous indignation 
and hurt vanity in a series of articles as bitter and satirical as I knew how 
to make them. They probably struck most readers as being just angry. 
Clearly, I could not offer them to The Guardian , and so, going to the 
other extreme, I sent them to the old Morning Post 9 long since extinct, 
but in its day a reputable Tory newspaper of the extreme Right. The 
editor accepted five of them, rejecting two - the one about Red Im- 
perialism, and another giving an account of how foreign journalists 
working in the USSR are induced to toe the Party Line. Subsequently, 
I tried this latter piece on The Times } where it was likewise rejected, 
even though at that time the paper had no correspondent in Moscow, 
and relied on the reports of a man named Urch in Riga. Anyone who 
had the curiosity to look up Urch’s dispatches would find that they 
maintained a high level of accuracy and reliability; certainly by com- 
parison with Duranty’s, so prominently displayed in the columns of the 
New York Times . Again one marvels at the almost mystical importance 
attached to the location of a news-gatherer as distinct from the truthful- 
ness of the news sent 



272 The Green Stick 

I was paid five guineas each for the five articles accepted by the 
Morning Post. It was not much, but in those days twenty-five guineas 
sufficed to keep us going in food for quite a while in Rossiniire. In the 
Leftist legend of the thirties it is usually assumed that attacking the 
Soviet regime was made temptingly lucrative, whereas supporting it 
involved penury and perhaps martyrdom. For the most part, precisely 
the opposite was the case; most of the best-selling writers about the 
USSR were strongly favourable (for instance, Maurice Hindus, Dr 
Hewlett Johnson and the Webbs, whose Soviet Communism: A New 
Civilisation? had a very large sale, especially when, as Stalin got into his 
stride as the master-terrorist of the age, they dropped the question mark 
from the title -a vast and mercifully forgotten literature of Soviet 
adulation, all very profitable to its progenitors), whereas antagonistic 
works were difficult to get published and sure to be knocked or ignored. 
Even Animal Farm , one of the few undoubted works of genius of our 
time, was rejected by fourteen publishers on the ground that it was too 
hostile to the Soviet regime, before being accepted. One of the rejectors 
was T. S. Eliot on behalf of Faber & Faber. 

The Morning Post articles attracted a certain amount of attention. 
Arthur Schlesinger told me, when he was working on his book, The 
Age of Roosevelt , that Henry Wallace used them as an argument against 
recognising the USSR when the matter was under consideration by the 
Roosevelt Administration. As he was Secretary of Agriculture and one 
of the President’s inner circle of advisers at the time, he may even have 
had some effect. I was rather glad to be abroad and inaccessible when 
the articles appeared. Inevitably, they aroused the interest of organisa- 
tions and individuals belonging to the wilder shores of international 
politics, such as ultra-royalist Russian exiles, and various brands of 
Ukrainian nationalists and separatists; curious societies and organisa- 
tions with elaborate letter-heads dedicated to restoring lost cultures and 
recovering lost lands. I had no wish to get mixed up in such company, 
and kept on trying to explain, whenever an opportunity offered, that 
disliking the Soviet regime did not imply any particular liking for its 
predecessors or possible successors, or even a wish that the October 
Revolution had not happened. 

It was the memory of my anxieties at this time which first drew me to 
George Orwell, who went through a similar experience as a result of the 
publication of his articles about his experiences during the Spanish Civil 
War, in which he exposed the monstrous hypocrisy and chicanery of 



Who Whom ? 273 

Communist policy in Catalonia. The articles were rejected out of hand 
by the New Statesman, and appeared finally in the New English Weekly, 
the rather obscure organ of the Social Credit Movement. When I got 
to know him, we often discussed how difficult it is, in an ideologically 
polarised society like ours, to take up any position without being 
automatically assumed to hold all the views and attitudes associated 
with it. Like voting the ticket in an American election, when by just 
pressing one button support is automatically accorded to a whole string 
of candidates for all sorts of offices. Thus to attack the Soviet or the 
Spanish Republican regime was automatically to support their Fascist 
or Nazi opponents; to expose the fatuities of the liberal mind, to com- 
mend the authoritarian one. Orwell’s devastating exposure of the pursuit 
of power through revolution in Animal Farm, and of the maintenance of 
power for power’s own sake in 1984 , was intended to show, with the 
desperate intensity of an utterly honest mind, that the world of the mid- 
twentieth century was moving towards a collectivised way of life, whose 
only truth would be slogans, whose only duty would be conformity and 
whose only morality would be power. Admittedly, the pioneer and first 
exemplar in this field was the USSR, but the trend, as was to become 
increasingly apparent, was universal. It was not by chance that he took 
the BBC as his model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984 ; his picture of 
a continuing state of war whose aims and even location are largely un- 
known, has come to pass in Vietnam, and television has become Big 
Brother’s provenance, if not his kingdom, just as he foresaw’. All my own 
conclusions as a result of my time in the USSR pointed in exactly the 
same direction. 

Soon the clients started arriving at the Chalet de la Colline, which was 
just as well; our money was again running out, and it was only when we 
had clients in residence that w’e could get any from the Workers’ Travel 
Association - whose name, incidentally, soon became an embarrass- 
ment, and had to be used only as initials, proving once more that the 
more workers are cracked up and adulated in the abstract the less anyone 
wants to be categorised as a worker in practice. The clients, in any case, 
proved to be mostly school-teachers and accountants, with an occasional 
civil servant, though there was one authentic worker, a railwayman 
accompanied by his wife, of whom we all made a tremendous fuss to 
show how un-class conscious we were. As it happened, they were both as 
nice as could be, and managed with great ease to find congenial places 
to take a quiet glass of wine in the neighbourhood of Rossiniire. Mrs 

C.W.T.— 8 



274 The Green Stick 

Dobbs also came to stay with us, engaging in some clandestine marketing 
of her paintings with the clients. Sometimes she accompanied me on my 
afternoon walk, talking all the way about such matters as whether there 
was a devil, and the prospects for all creation in due course becoming 
one. She had a way of shuffling and scraping her feet as she went along 
which produced a sandpaper effect by way of background to the rasp of 
her voice, thereby making the envisaged oneness of all somehow less 
alluring than might otherwise have been the case. One thought with 
relief of the aeons and aeons of time that must pass before this happy 
consummation would be realised. 

We spent in all some three months in Rossini&re, during which time I 
finished a book about my experiences in the USSR, later published as 
Winter In Moscow . As with the Morning Post articles, I wrote in a mood 
of anger, which I find rather absurd now; not so much because the 
anger was, in itself, unjustified, as because getting angry about human 
affairs is as ridiculous as losing one’s temper when an air flight is 
delayed, or in a traffic jam. The only parts of the book I find tolerable 
are the humorous passages; laughter being a great prophylactic which 
disinfects anger as it does lechery and all other passions. When Winter 
In Moscow came out, it enjoyed a certain vogue among old Moscow 
hands like Chip Bohlen, Bill Stoneman and William Henry Chamberlin, 
who prided themselves on having a glossary of the real people behind 
my fictitious names. Cholerton said of it that it was the great anti-cant 
Bible of the USSR, which pleased me very much, but in actual fact it 
achieved nothing in the way of clearing up misconceptions and propa- 
ganda lies; people continued to regard as an open question whether there 
was forced labour in the USSR, and whether the confessions of the Old 
Bolsheviks to have worked for the British Secret Service, etc., etc., were 
genuine. Shaw’s picture of Stalin as the Good Fabian, and Dr Hewlett 
Johnson’s of him as building the Kingdom of Christ, continued to carry 
more conviction than mine of a bloodthirsty tyrant of unusual ferocity 
even by Russian standards. People, after all, believe lies, not because 
they are plausibly presented, but because they want to believe them. So, 
their credulity is unshakeable. 

Sitting at my typewriter in the mornings, and tramping about the 
Canton de Vaud in the afternoons, I tried desperately hard to sort out 
my thoughts and emotions following the total reversal, in the light of 
what I had seen and understood in the USSR, of everything I had 
hitherto hoped for and believed. It was not just a disillusionment with 



Who Whom ? 275 

the Russian Revolution as such; that, after all, was something that had 
happened, a historical event like any other, with causes and conse- 
quences which could be explored and evaluated. No more, for that mat- 
ter, with the Soviet regime as such, which, with all its cruelties and 
privations, was a way of life like any other, endurable to the Russian 
people as being in their historical tradition. Anyway, an essentially 
Russian way of life rather than a Marxist one. Requiring, therefore, the 
move to Moscow from elegant Europeanised Petrograd-Leningrad - 
something that Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, too, would have heartily 
endorsed. Requiring, also, for Red Czar a Georgian bandit like 
Stalin, not one of his Old Bolshevik colleagues like Trotsky or Bukharin 
or Zinoviev or Radek; mostly Jewish, ‘rootless cosmopolitans’, as they 
were later to be contemptuously dubbed when Stalin swung the 
Russians back to their traditional and habitual anti-semitism. These, 
Stalin decided (and he may well, from his own point of view, have been 
right), were better dead. And dead in the most humiliating way- 
beating their breasts, and abjectly apologising for doing things they 
couldn’t possibly have done, being where they couldn’t possibly have 
been, keeping assignations they couldn’t possibly have kept. 

All this likewise indubitably belonged to history, and would 
have to be historically assessed; like the Murder of the Innocents, or the 
Black Death, or the Battle of Paschendaele. But there was something 
else; a monumental death-wish, an immense destructive force loosed in 
the world which was going to sweep over everything and everyone, lay- 
ing them flat; burning, killing, obliterating, until nothing was left. Those 
German agronomes in their green uniform suits with feathers in their 
hats - they had their part to play. So had the paunchy Brown-Shirts, and 
the matronly blonde maidens painting swastikas on the windows of 
Jewish shops. So had the credulous armies of the just, listening open- 
mouthed to Intourist patter, or seeking reassurance from a boozy 
sandalled Wicksteed. Wise old Shaw, high-minded old Barbusse, the 
venerable Webbs, Gide the pure in heart and Picasso the impure, down 
to poor little teachers, crazed clergymen and millionaires, drivelling dons 
and very special correspondents like Duranty, all resolved, come what 
might, to believe anything, however preposterous, to overlook anything, 
however villainous, to approve anything, however obscurantist and 
brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the con- 
fident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless and 
bloody tyrannies ever to exist on earth could be relied on to champion 
human freedom, the brotherhood of man, and all the other good liberal 



276 The Green Stick 

causes to which they had dedicated their lives. All resolved, in other 
words, to abolish themselves and their world, the rest of us with it. Nor 
have I from that time ever had the faintest expectation that, in earthly 
terms, anything could be salvaged; that any earthly battle could be won, 
or earthly solution found. It has all just been sleep-walking to the end 
of the night. 



Chronicle II: 



THE 

INFERNAE 

GROVE 



Till I turn from Female Love, 
And root up the Infernal Grove, 
I shall never worthy be 
To step into Eternity. 



FOR MY BVER-DEAR CHILDREN: 
LEONARD, JOHN AND VALENTINE, 
AND THE OTHER THREE THAT HAVE 
COME TO US THROUGH THEM: 
8YLVIA, ANNE AND GERRIT-JAN 



6 The Iron Gates 



Let us roll all our strength and all 
Our Sweetness up into one ball, 

And tear our pleasures with rough strife 
Through the iron gates of life 

- Andrew Marvell 

0 1 dreadful is the check - intense the agony - 
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see; 

When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again; 

The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain. 

- Emily Bronte 

A passionate tumultuous age will overthrow everything, pull every- 
thing down; but a revolutionary age that is at the same time reflective 
and passionless leaves everything standing but cunningly empties it 
of significance. 

- Kierkegaard 

IN thb autumn of 1933 I came to Geneva from Rosini&re, where I 
had been staying after my Moscow adventure, to take a temporary job 
at the International Labour Office, then part of the now defunct League 
of Nations. Kitty and the two children and I had a small apartment in 
the Rue de Lausanne overlooking the Lake and the Jardin des Anglais. 

The stem, forbidding Kremlin seemed far away, with its Red Flag 
endlessly flying; by night arc-lit to make a pool of blood in the surround- 
ing darkness. As were also the brown-shirted bully-boys and braided 
embonpoint maidens roaming the streets of Berlin in search of cowering 
Jewish shopkeepers. It was a snug little retreat, tucked away among 
mountains; more like a stage-set or a willow-pattern than an actual 
place, with steamers puffing to and fro across the Lake, and pretty 
Renaissance-style houses, their gardens reaching down to the Lake 



282 The Infernal Grove 

shore, recalling Mme de Stael, with her tall, red-headed Benjamin 
Constant in attendance, and their interminable rhythm of meals and 
talk and talk and meals. Then, as now, a great storm raged beyond the 
snow-capped mountains, standing guard like majestic sentries; their 
heads rosy at dawn, shining white by day, and in the evening scarlet. 
I comforted myself by recalling the many honourable precedents for 
thus taking refuge in this particular sanctuary. For instance, Rousseau 
wearing Armenian dress and seated at his crochet work; or Voltaire, ai* 
earlier version of Bernard Shaw, growing rich and famous by shocking 
and thrilling those for whom the tumbrils were already waiting. As today 
there are the millionaire colonists of Gstad, and the lords of show busi- 
ness scattered about the cantons where the Inland Revenue men cease 
from troubling and the wealthy are at rest. 

It was through David Blelloch that I came to hear of the ILO job, and 
thanks to his kind offices that I got it; he being the son-in-law of Robert 
Dell, Guardian Paris correspondent during my time in Manchester, 
who had now been transferred to Geneva to report the doings of the 
League of Nations. I used to run into Dell there from time to time; 
still gloved, cane in hand, shoes of patent leather, soft hat rakishly 
tilted, reminiscing about Anatole France and the villainies of the Quai 
d’Orsay. Employment of some kind I urgently needed, as once again I 
had practically no money. So I was greatly beholden to Blelloch and his 
wife Sylvia, who were uniformly kind and generous to Kitty and me 
while we were in Geneva. 

The ILO, brain-child of Albert Thomas its first Director-General, 
was set up at the same time as the League of Nations in the mood of 
ebullience which followed the 1914-18 war, the intention being to re- 
inforce the League’s machinery for safeguarding international peace by 
equivalent machinery for promoting social justice, on a basis of fair 
wages and humane working conditions. Alas, despite Albert Thomas’s 
valiant efforts and ardent oratory, as little progress seemed to have been 
made towards the realisation of social justice as of peace. By the time I 
arrived on the scene, Thomas was dead, and his place had been taken 
by an English don and sometime civil servant named Harold Butler, 
who accorded me a brief interview when I took up my temporary post 
He had to a marked degree the curious, disconcerting way dons had in 
those days, when one was supposed to be conversing with them, of 
seeming to have dozed off and to be muttering in their sleep. 

The section of the ILO to which I was posted had overflowed from 
the newly constructed main building into a temporary structure in the 



The Iron Gates 283 

grounds, and was engaged in preparing a survey of co-operative move- 
ments throughout the world. It was to assist in this work that I had 
been appointed. The head of the section was a tiny, pedantic Frenchman, 
M. Prosper, with a large moustache that seemed quite out of proportion 
with the rest of him; like the luxuriant bushes you sometimes find 
sprouting out of a minute crack in a rock face. I never discovered that 
he had any particular interest in co-operative movements; any more, 
for that matter, than I had myself. This, despite lingering memories of 
going shopping for my mother at the Croydon Co-op, and of the con- 
fidence of my father and his friends that a retail trader whose profits 
were distributed as divi to the customers must ultimately put out of 
business competitors who kept them for themselves. 

When asked to pronounce upon some point of policy or principle in 
connection with the work of his section, M. Prosper invariably retreated 
behind his moustache, and exclaimed in a voice that was quite remark- 
ably deep and resonant for so tiny a frame: ‘fai mes rigles, fai mes 
riglesl' What these rules were, who had drafted them, and to what end, 
no one was ever able to find out Contrasting with his laodicean attitude 
to co-operative movements, even in his native France, let alone in China 
or Peru, was the relentless concern with which he followed anything to 
do with the ILO’s internal organisation; more particularly, pro- 
motions, salary scales and superannuation arrangements. When these 
were under consideration, he would become enormously vehement and 
excited, waving his arms about, and injecting into his voice a note of 
passionate concern, which, as things turned out, met with its just reward. 
I like to think of M. Prosper living out his days comfortably in some 
agreeable spot in Provence, noting with quiet satisfaction that his monthly 
cheque, drawn on the Banque de Gen&ve, maintains its value in a 
shifting world. I only once encountered him outside the office, and that 
was in the Rue de Lausanne, just when I was turning into the apartment 
block where we lived. ‘Ahl’ he said to me, with, as I thought, a note of 
accusation in that deep voice of his, ‘vous avezplanti votre tente'. It made 
me feel quite uneasy, as though he had caught me out in some nefarious 
enterprise, and I tried to reassure him by muttering confusedly: ‘Mats 
non, Monsieur, nous sommes seulement des locataires He gave me a dis- 
tant, condescending nod, and passed on, presumably to some tent of his 
own, where Madame Prosper awaited him, maybe some children, 
shouting, as he hove in sight, 'Voild Papal'', a dog barking, a grandmire 
serenely smiling, a servant laying the table -just like the Bontemps 
family from whose doings I learnt my first French words and grammar. 



284 The Infernal Grove 

There were some six or seven of us in his department engaged in 
preparing the survey of co-operative movements. The only one of my 
colleagues who made much impression on me was H, a Lithuanian 
Jewess, with whom I spent a lot of my time talking. She had contracted 
polio as a child, and now needed to wear metal braces; because of her 
condition, walking painfully and slowly with two sticks. Everything she 
did required an enormous effort, which somehow resulted in the upper 
part of her becoming magnified. Her head and bust were a caricaturist’s 
drawing, the face being particularly huge and swollen, yet in its own 
way, beautiful - like one of those lurid flowers that grow in stony wil- 
dernesses. After Kitty and I returned to London, she came and stayed 
with us there, and I took her round sight-seeing - something I hate any- 
way. She was avid to go everywhere and see everything. Her audacious 
refusal to accept the limitations of her crippled state drove her to under- 
take the most difficult operations. She went traipsing through Hampton 
Court and the Tower of London, climbed up into the dome of St Paul’s, 
and, shaking and straining over her two sticks, and dragging along her 
two helpless legs, got on and off moving-stairways and made her way 
onto the tops of buses. I admired, and in a way loved her, and yet was 
also horrified by her, and glad when her visit came to an end. 

Inevitably, however we might begin, much of our talk had a way of 
veering towards the Soviet regime, with which, as a Lithuanian, she was 
all too familiar. Although we heaped obloquy in unison on the GPU, 
the forced labour camps, and all the other horrors, I sensed in her a 
certain reservation, as though deep down in her heart, despite every- 
thing, she nourished an unquenchable expectation that somehow the 
socialist hopes she had invested in the Russian Revolution would be, if 
not realised in the USSR, made more realisable by what was hap- 
pening there. In the unacknowledged world-wide civil war that was 
going on then - still is, for that matter - cutting across all existing loy- 
alties, all accepted values and codes of behaviour, H was on one side and 
I on the other, and, ultimately, as I well knew, nothing could change 
either of our allegiances. Not even, in her case, such incidents as when, 
during the operation of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, at the Brest-Litovsk 
Bridge - Margaret Buber-Neumann has described the scene -the 
GPU handed over to the Gestapo, German-Jewish Communists who 
had taken refuge in the USSR, with Soviet and Nazi officers jointly 
checking the lists. Nor, in my case, the realisation that, as grows ever 
more obvious to me, what is still called our free way of life turns out to 
be neither free nor a way of life; safeguarding nothing that makes it 



The Iron Gates 285 

worth defending, and with no future prospects that make it worth 
protracting. 

After H’s visit to us in London, I never saw or heard of her again until 
I happened to read the Royal Commission Report on the Canadian Spy 
Case resulting from the defection of Gouzenko, a cipher-clerk in the 
Soviet Embassy in Ottawa. One of the names Gouzenko handed over 
of Soviet agents operating in Canada was H's. It seemed that she had 
been sent to Montreal by the ILO, and there, no doubt partly through 
pressure on her family in Lithuania, by this time incorporated into the 
USSR, induced to perform minor espionage services in a Soviet spy 
ring. So, in the end, her true allegiance did come out. I wonder if mine 
ever will. Or if I really have one. 

In our temporary building where we toiled on M. Prospers behalf 
it used to get very hot owing to an uncontrollable heating system, and 
this made me sleepy. From time to time a trolley brought in tea or 
coffee and biscuits. I used to long for its coming, as I had for the tea- 
tray when I was wrestling in my room in the Guardian office with a 
leader; maybe one on this very ILO -an institution held in high 
esteem in Cross Street. The biscuits, when they came, were all stamped 
with the initials BIT (Bureau International de Travail), which some- 
how made them like sacerdotal wafers; if so, presumably munched in 
remembrance of the lantern-jawed Princetonian, Woodrow Wilson. 

I cannot pretend that I threw myself with much zest into collecting 
and collating data about co-operative movements. For one thing, the 
information came exclusively from government sources, and was 
therefore highly suspect. Some of it, indeed, was manifestly absurd, 
suggesting, as it did, that co-operative enterprises were more numerous 
and advanced in countries like Cuba and Afghanistan than in France 
and Switzerland. When I raised this point with M. Prosper, he rather 
crossly remarked that it was not our business to question the genuine- 
ness of the data provided for us by member States; our business was to 
present it, as clearly and cogently as possible. So, with these dubious 
bricks, we constructed our great statistical edifice. When I left, it was 
still far from completion. Perhaps even to this day it exists somewhere 
or other as a work of reference, to be quoted from, or used in arguing a 
thesis or making a case. Cholerton’s famous comment on the Moscow 
Trials - that everything about them was true except the facts - might 
well be applied to it; as, indeed, to much of the output of the League and 
its affiliates. I well remember a senior official coming one evening into 
the canteen, and telling me with the utmost satisfaction that eight years 



286 The Infernal Grove 

of earnest endeavour had just been brought to a successful conclusion. 
So, it was a gala-day for him. It seemed that he had been engaged in 
drafting a Convention banning the employment of women in mines, 
and at last, with only two member States - Poland and India - entering 
a reservation, his draft had been unanimously approved. It came 
out afterwards that Poland and India were the only two countries 
among those adhering to the Convention in which women did work in 
mines. 

As the winter came on, chill winds began to blow, mists to gather, so 
that we were often quite shut in, with even the Lake lost to view. None- 
theless, I doggedly took my walks along the Quai Woodrow Wilson, 
noting League delegates and their hangers-on similarly bent. Men in 
overcoats with astrakhan collars, sometimes cigar-smoking, or talking 
vehemently; maybe arm-in-arm with a single companion, or in groups, 
gesticulating, pausing to spread out their arms as though making some 
dramatic point. The solitaries often trying to open their newspapers in 
the wind - Journal de Genive , Gazette de Lausanne - a quick, anxious 
peek preliminary to subsequent more particular study. More important 
ones with a plain-clothes man or two trotting behind to ensure that no 
harm should befall them, or maybe a secretary or PA respectfully in 
attendance in case some need should arise for their services. 

Occasionally, a face was vaguely recognisable. As Briand, somnolent- 
eyed, heavily moustached, nicotine-stained, or his opposite number, 
Laval, sallow complexion and white tie contrasting; the two of them like 
figures in a weather-gauge, one going in as the other comes out. Or 
Politis, Titulescu, Benis - names to conjure with in their day, but who 
remembers them now? Or fat little Litvinov waddling along to propose 
once more the total disarmament of one and all, unconditionally and for 
ever; in his train, three or four GPU men, with wide trousers, and 
bulges under their arms, and little, dry, expressionless eyes. Or Arthur 
Henderson in his bowler, still presiding over the Disarmament Con- 
ference to which Litvinov’s proposal would be put, and still wearing 
that lost look I had noticed when I ran into him on a channel steamer 
just after the Labour holocaust of 1932. Or the then British Foreign 
Secretary, Sir John Simon, reptilian, a snake in snake’s clothing if ever 
there was one, with Strang - whom I had known in Moscow - at his 
elbow, so that a distant greeting could be exchanged, and, for adjoint, 
a newcomer to the international scene, none other than young Anthony 
Eden, a spring in his step, a song in his heart, moustache likewise 
vibrant, homburg-hatted (headgear, as his fame increased, to be named 



The Iron Gates 287 

after him), ce jeune homrne extraordinaire qtd aime tant la paix , as the 
French newspapers referred to him. Who could then have foreseen the 
stormy course that lay ahead for him? From glory to glory; the Foreign 
Office, the War Office, and finally Downing Street, and then that weird 
withdrawal to the Jamaican Bondhouse, Goldeneye, and, reappearance 
as a ghostly earl or belted ghost. And, finally - was it really he? Looking 
out across the Lake from a hotel balcony in the early morning? That 
grey straggling moustache, those floating locks and flashing eyes, that 
air of woebegone self-satisfaction - was it, could it be ... ? Yes, it was. 
None other than our Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Ramsay MacDonald. 
‘Good-morning, sir,’ I said as cheerfully as possible. In return he gave 
me one of his slow, lugubrious looks, and then delivered himself of a 
characteristic line: The day is for the wurruld, but the morrming is for 
myself I’ I left him to enjoy his own morning in preparation for the 
world’s day. 

The League of Nations in those days focused the hopes of the en- 
lightened everywhere; all eyes were upon it in the confident expectation 
that it would succeed in making war as obsolete as duelling, and armed 
forces as unnecessary to nations as wearing a sword had become to indi- 
vidual citizens. In some mysterious way, just willing this would bring it 
to pass; by renouncing armaments, nationalistic policies and other 
works of the evil one, good would triumph, and peace reign for ever- 
more. Sooner or later, everyone who was anyone came to Geneva to 
celebrate this new era of universal peace that was being inaugurated 
there. As well as the delegates themselves and their suites, there were in- 
numerable campaigners of one sort and another, male and female, clerical 
and lay, young and old; all with some notion to publicise, some pet 
solution to offer, some organisation to promote. They gathered in droves, 
fanning out through the city, and settling in hotels and pensions, from 
the Lakeside ones down to tiny obscure back-street establishments. 
Ferocious ladies with moustaches, clergymen with black leather patches 
on the elbows of their jackets or cassocks and smelling of tobacco smoke, 
mad admirals who knew where to find the lost tribes of Israel, and 
scarcely saner generals who deduced prophetic warnings from the 
measurements of the pyramids; but one and all believers in the 
League’s historic role to deliver mankind painlessly and inexpensively 
from the curse of war to the great advantage of all concerned. 

What a time that was for Geneva! Not since Calvin has the spotlight 
of history so shone on it; and, of course, with the spotlight, came the 
world’s newspapermen, their favourite haunt being the Cafe Bavaria, 



288 The Infernal Grove 

whose walls were lined with appropriate cartoons in deference to this 
special clientele. Thither they came, hot-foot from Berlin or Paris or 
London or New York, their stringers respectfully in attendance, with 
stories to write, expense accounts to draw on -Garf on, encore des 
scotchs! I occasionally dropped into the Bavaria myself to join an 
acquaintance for a drink, breaking off my researches into co-operative 
movements and my talks with H to get the feel again of news-gathering 
and the news-gatherers. More often than not, there would be present 
one or other of the famous American special correspondents - John 
Gunther, Vincent Sheean, Negley Farson, H. R. Knickerbocker - who 
in those days roamed the world, and would touch down at Geneva from 
time to time to cover a meeting of the League Council or Assembly, or 
in the vague expectation that even the Disarmament Conference as it 
meandered on, like Charles II taking an unconscionable time in dying, 
might yet yield a story. There was always the possibility, too, of some- 
thing actually happening; as when Herr Greiser, President of the 
Danzig Senate, cocked a snook at the League delegates, or when the 
German delegates scornfully withdrew from the Disarmament Con- 
ference, leading the President, Arthur Henderson, to remark, on being 
asked what his reaction was, that it was ‘a bit awkward*. 

They were the knight-errants of our time; rescuers of nations in 
distress, champions of the downtrodden and oppressed, who smote the 
offending dragons hip and thigh with breathless words rattled off on 
their typewriters, and, later, caparisoned, cap-a-pie, cantered more 
sedately, but no less lucratively, round the lecture circuits. Above the 
tobacco smoke and the clatter of glasses, words and phrases resounded. 
Civilian bombing. . . . Would they be able to re-phrase the resolution 
to make it acceptable to the Great Powers? . . . Drafters hard at work . . . 
Eden optimistic and sees light at the end of the tunnel. . . . Even Briand 
awake and optimistic. . . . Even Sir John Simon wearing a frosty 
smile. . . . Begins: hope rising geneva league circles resol- 
ution NOW DRAFTING BANNING CIVILIAN BOMBING UNCON- 
DITIONALLY RECEIVING QUASI-UNANIMOUS SUPPORT MORE. In 
the warmth of the Bavaria, three or four fines under my belt, I joined in 
the talk with a sense of being at the hub of events. Here, one knew what 
was happening; felt the world’s pulse, and listened to its heartbeat. 
Here, as the Guardian would have put it, 4 a new way of conducting 
international relations was being forged; quiet reasonable discussion 
round a table instead of bluster and gun-boats. Nor should the clownish 
gesture of a Herr Greiser be taken too seriously, and certainly not 



The Iron Gates 289 

allowed to jeopardise the promising prospects for a wide-ranging peace- 
ful settlement. . . .* 

Outside, breathing in the cold damp air, the glow I had felt in the 
Caf6 Bavaria soon wore off. News, like sensuality, is a passing excite- 
ment; perhaps the ultimate fantasy of all. A shadow’s shadow, the scen- 
ario of the film of the play of the book, triumph for mr eden . . . 
DISCOURS MAGNIFIQUB DB M. BRIAND VAUT A LA FRANCE UNB 
JOURN^E INOUBLIABLE . . . STRONG SUPPORT FOR POLITIS- 

titulescu compromise resolution. . . . Such items flashed 
round the world, shouted down telephones, set up by compositors, 
tapped out on teleprinters, subbed and digested and commented upon. 
Seemingly so momentous, and so soon cold. Who is Briand? What next 
Politis? Whither Titulescu? And the League itself? What was it but 
another Tower of Babel, climbing inanely into the sky? Through the 
mist I could just see the outline of the great new Palais de Nations, then 
under construction. Cedars from Lebanon, marble from Italy, precious 
metals from the Andes; contributions of one sort and another from every 
comer of the globe. A Palace of the Nations as stupendous as Kubla 
Khan’s in Xanadu. 

Alas, as it turned out, barely was the Palais des Nations completed 
and ready to be occupied than the second world war was ready to begin. 
While Hitler’s panzers were actually roaring into Poland from the west, 
and Stalin’s divisions lumbering in to meet them from the east, the 
League was in session in its new premises, discussing - the codification 
of level-crossing signs. At the time I remember feeling a sort of relief. 
At least there would be no more compromise resolutions, whether 
devised by MM. Politis and Titulescu or anyone else; no more triumphs 
for Mr Eden, or magnificent discourses by M. Briand. How wrong I 
wasl Another Tower of Babel, taller, more tower-like and more babu- 
lous, would spring up in Manhattan, to outdo the League many times 
over in the irrelevance of its proceedings, the ambiguity of its resolutions 
and the confusion of its purposes. What will they be discussing there, 
I ask myself, when the guided missiles begin to fly? 

By this time, Kitty and the children had gone back to London to set 
up house in preparation for my return, and I had told M. Prosper that 
the tent I had planted I now proposed to roll up and be gone. He kindly 
provided me with a testimonial to the effect that I had performed my 
duties with diligence and conscientiousness. It was, I fear, even less 
deserved than such statements usually are; my contribution to the mas- 
sive report on co-operative movements throughout the world having 



290 The Infernal Grove 

been minute, and shaky at that. My last days in Geneva were solitary 
and morose, and largely spent pounding along beside the Lake, which 
seemed particularly leaden and ill-omened on those dark winter days. 
It, too, had I but known it, had a future destiny as the last hiding place 
of the world’s hoarded gold, deposited there in fear as, in my time, its 
hoarded peace had been deposited there in hope. 

As a place of pilgrimage, Geneva lacked the melodrama of Moscow; 
its cult more fatuous than sinister. Yet, just as, pounding round the Red 
Square, I endlessly asked myself how it came about that the choicest 
spirits of the age - all the gurus and dancing dervishes of enlighten- 
ment-prostrated themselves before a brutish tyrant like Stalin, so, 
pounding along the Quai Woodrow Wilson, I kept wondering what 
Pied Piper had been able to lead them to the shores of this sullen Lake, 
confidently expecting to find there Tennyson’s Parliament of Man and 
Federation of the World. In both cases, as it seemed to me, the signifi- 
cant thing was the ready acceptance of fantasy as reality; even a predi- 
lection in favour of fantasy, and a corresponding abhorrence of reality. 
Why? 

It was the question of questions; confronting it, I could only wail and 
lament by the Lake shore, cursing its dark waters, its chill mists, its icy 
winds, as I remembered my own readiness to take to the plastic wings 
of fantasy; to listen with Caliban to the sounds and sweet airs which 
give delight and hurt not, so that when we wake - but we never do - we 
cry to sleep again. All I could claim - so miniscule a claim - was that I 
knew, had always known, would always know, that the alternative reality 
existed, and that, all too desultorily and faithlessly, I had looked for it, 
aware that the quest was the only true and serious purpose life held. 
Trying to tear it out of the sky, or out of other flesh; searching for it 
in grains of sand, and on the stony tops of mountains. Pursuing and 
pursued, stumbling on as it breathed down my neck, and chasing after 
it as it disappeared from view; crying for mercy as I waited for it to 
pounce, shouting myself hoarse as I tried to call it back - like a ship- 
wrecked man shouting hopelessly after a distant ship. Glimpsing for an 
instant the fearful symmetry, the mystery and the meaning of things; 
then, the vision lost, as it seemed, for ever, and I left stranded. Borne 
down by the mountains, sightless in the darkness, chilled as though the 
Lake water flowed in my veins. 

Coming back to London, it seemed as though I had been away for years; 
actually only for eighteen months. Everything looked differently to me; 



The Iron Gates 291 

especially the assumption on which I had lived from my earliest years, 
that such and such changes, brought about peacefully through the 
ballot-box, or drastically through some sort of revolutionary process, 
would transform human life; making it brotherly, prosperous and just, 
instead of, as it had always been, and still was for most people, full of 
poverty, exploitation and conflict. I no longer believed this, nor ever 
would again. The essential quality of our lives, as I now understood, 
was a factor, not so much of how we lived, but of why we lived. It was 
our values, not our production processes, or our laws, or our social 
relationships, that governed our existence. 

This conclusion was by no means as clear-cut then as it subsequently 
became. I still felt rather dazed, like a clergyman from under whom the 
m&t of orthodoxy has been pulled. Also - quite unreasonably, I admit, 
in view of the way I had written and spoken about them - 1 was upset 
at having become a kind of moral leper in the eyes of old friends and 
acquaintances like Kingsley Martin and other former Guardian col- 
leagues. I was still in the happy position of not receiving press-cuttings, 
but when Winter in Moscow was published, soon after my return from 
Geneva, I found myself called a liar and a renegade in most publications 
of the Left. In the case of the New Statesman I was foolish enough to 
send in a letter of self-vindication and protest, but, needless to say, it 
was not published. It was only when Khrushchev, in his famous speech 
at the twentieth Party Congress, disclosed the full magnitude of the 
calamity the forced collectivisation of agriculture had brought about in 
the USSR, that what I had reported received official confirmation. No 
one, however, apologised for having called me a slanderer and running 
dog of Capitalism, or thought any the less of Shaw, the Webbs and all 
the others who had so ardently and indignantly denied there had been 
a calamity at all. 

Kitty, with her usual skill, had set up in a modest flat in Parliament 
Hill Fields, but it involved sharing a staircase and various other dom- 
estic arrangements, which, with two small children, presented difficul- 
ties. Shortly after my arrival on the scene, the landlord asked us to go. 
Kitty, in any case, was six months pregnant, and in no condition for 
house-hunting with practically no money. Asking the Guardian for a 
testimonial would have involved approaching Crozier - something that 
was infinitely repugnant to me. I had, it is true, the good M. Prospers 
one but, not surprisingly, it failed to register in Fleet Street From 
Geneva I had written to The Times to know if there was any chance of 
being taken on, but received an answer from Barrington Ward which 



292 The Infernal Grove 

held out little hope. A similar feeler put out to the BBC likewise met 
with no response. Altogether we were in a mess. 

This was a low point in my fortunes; not just materially, but in every 
sense. I saw no prospect of making a living as a free-lance writer; the 
articles I wrote and submitted to various publications all came back to 
me. Winter in Moscow , it is true, was reprinted in England, and pub- 
lished in America; but the financial results of this were relatively meagre, 
and the professional consequences disastrous. Most of the minor pat- 
ronage in the world of journalism and communications, even in the 
early thirties, was in the hands of lib-leftists to whom I was now 
anathema, while in Conservative eyes I was, rightly, suspect. In a 
rather self-pitying note I jotted down at this time, I described how 
isolated I felt myself to be, and how I knew that henceforth I should 
always be so; whereas, to get along in the world, it was necessary to 
support a ticket, whether Left, Right or Centre. One could love the 
Soviet Union and detest the British Raj, or vice versa; but to hate both, 
and for the same reasons - which was my case - was not permissible. 
So, when I called on the editor of the Morning Post , H. A. Gwynne, 
who had published my articles on my time in the USSR, I found him 
most friendly and charming but, on the subject of a job, evasive. Simi- 
larly, Gerald Barry, then still editor of the Week-End Review , and later 
of the News Chronicle . This was to be increasingly an age of polarised 
loyalties. A review I wrote for the Spectator , which predicted the eclipse 
of liberalism as a moral and political irrelevance, was returned as being 
inadmissible in its columns; likewise an article submitted to The Times 
about the impossibility of functioning as a conscientious and honest 
journalist in the conditions imposed by the Soviet authorities. 

I had finished my novel, Picture Palace , about the Guardian , and the 
publishers of Winter in Moscow , Eyre & Spottiswoode, had accepted it 
for publication. At the same time, out of the blue, Jonathan Cape asked 
me to write a book about Samuel Butler, the author of Erewhon and The 
Way of All Fleshy to appear on the centenary of his birth. The proposal 
was made over a meal at the Etoile in Charlotte Street; an excellent 
restaurant that I never enter nowadays, if I can possibly avoid it, because, 
for me, it is haunted by the ghosts of the books I haven’t written and 
the contracts I haven’t fulfilled. Between the hors d’ceuvres and the 
cheese, I hear them incessantly groaning and rattling their (or maybe 
my) chains. Cape, a tall, solid man with a muddy complexion and ill- 
fitting false teeth, had originally been a travelling book salesman, but, 
branching out as a publisher himself, had been remarkably successful. 



The Iron Gates 293 

He enjoyed the great advantage of rarely reading his books, having, in 
Richard Garnett, a chief reader who read them on his behalf with great 
acumen. This left him free to estimate their possibilities in other, more 
subtle ways; holding and weighing them in his hand, turning over their 
pages, perhaps even smelling them or nibbling at the end-papers. I 
imagine that a successful picture-dealer operates similarly; Cape was 
a sort of Duveen, with Garnett as his Berenson. His first bold venture 
was to publish Arabia Deserta , which was an immediate success, and 
put him in the way of taking over T. E. Lawrence as a literary property. 
Another great coup was a collected edition of Mary Webb, which he 
launched to coincide with a speech in praise of her works by the then 
Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, about which Cape had prior know- 
ledge from Tom Jones, the trusted counsellor of a whole series of Prime 
Ministers. A real relish would come into Cape’s voice as he described 
how he went round from publisher to publisher buying up the rights in 
Mary Webb’s hitherto unsuccessful novels for quite small sums in prep- 
aration for his own collected edition, which in the end sold something 
like a million copies. When he came to this part of the narrative, he 
would observe: ‘Money talks!’ Cape, certainly, made it talk, if not 
sing. 

In his innocence - often a quality of worldly success, as sophistication 
is of worldly failure - he took it for granted that I should admire Butler’s 
works, and find his character and personality congenial. I encouraged 
him in this view, though actually I knew next to nothing about Butler, 
and was only very scantily conversant with his works. It was agreed 
between us that I should take on the book, and appropriate financial 
arrangements were made. From Cape’s point of view, the project ended 
badly; the more I explored Butler’s life and outlook, the less I liked him. 
By the time I had finished, the result could not but be unacceptable to 
Cape, as the publisher of Butler’s collected works, as well as of Festing 
Jones’s adulatory biography, and much other Butleriana. In the end, 
another publisher took over my book. I consider it a great compli- 
ment that nonetheless Cape several times approached me subse- 
quently with a view to getting me on his list. Perhaps, after all, 
he shared my feelings about Butler more than he cared to say. 

The last time I saw him, we lunched together alone in his flat in 
Bedford Square, shortly before the outbreak of the 1939-45 war * He 
was extremely indignant about the state of the world, which he attrib- 
uted largely to H. G. Wells, one of whose books he had lately published 
with a substantial advance which had not, as of then, been earned. He 



294 TIm Infernal Grove 

told me how he had approached Wells and demanded an explanation, 
not so much of the book’s poor sales, as of all the fraudulent hopes 
Wells had held out for the future as a result of the discoveries of science 
and the alleged enlargement of human understanding. The thought of 
this encounter appealed to me greatly, even though, not surprisingly, 
it failed to provide Cape with any satisfaction. He also complained bit- 
terly about women novelists, who, he said, were either hideously unat- 
tractive but considered their publisher owed them a pass, or so alluring 
that if he offered one he was liable to be repulsed. My impression is that 
he was more often in the latter than the former case. 

With the Butler book to do, and Picture Palace coming out, this was 
another point in my life when I might have plausibly given up 
journalism and settled down to be a writer. It was lucky I didn’t, 
because, shortly after my novel had been sent out for review, I received 
an intimation from the publisher that the Guardian had applied for an 
injunction and threatened an action for libel, which, he explained, could 
only be fought if I was prepared to put up at once several thousand 
pounds to cover costs. Otherwise, a settlement would have to be made, 
necessarily involving the withdrawal of the book. As I had no money at 
all, only an overdraft, and no possibility of laying hands on any, the 
publisher’s proposal was purely a formality, as he, I am sure, knew; 
and a settlement was duly reached, whereby the book was withdrawn 
and all existing copies destroyed. I kept one myself, which I still have; 
and I believe one or two others are extant. Otherwise, the novel, along 
with all the work I had put into it and the hopes I had invested in it, was 
sunk without trace. This was the heaviest blow I ever received as a 
writer, and it came just when I was least equipped, financially or in any 
other way, to withstand it. At the time I raged inwardly at the Guardian ' s 
- as it seemed to me - contemptible hypocrisy in thus bringing about 
the suppression of a book, which, though critical of itself, could not, by 
any stretch of the imagination, be said seriously to damage it com- 
mercially - the ground of its complaint. Even now, I have to admit, if 
my eye happens to fall on some ardent protest in its columns against a 
move to ban an obscene publication or entertainment, on the ground 
that any infringement of the right of self-expression is indefensible, I 
remember - more, I hope, with a grin than a groan - how little such 
considerations weighed when it was a question of preventing the publi- 
cation of Picture Palace. 

The situation was saved for me, financially speaking, by noticing, in 
the Situations Vacant column in The Times , that applications were in- 



The Iron Gates 295 

vited for the post of assistant-editor of the Calcutta Statesman. I applied 
at once, though in a somewhat desultory way, and, to my great surprise, 
was appointed, at what seemed to me a princely salary. My feelings 
about this sudden prosperity were mixed. In matters like money and 
sex, in which the ego is heavily engaged, no satisfaction is attainable; 
what one wants is to be both rich and poor, to be Don Juan and St 
Francis at one and the same time - which cannot be managed. Kitty 
and I found a pleasant little Regency house in Grove Terrace, over- 
looking Hampstead Heath, and there I was to leave her once more; now 
with three children, my daughter Valentine having got herself bora 
with reasonable ease and celerity. Next to Kitty herself, she is the per- 
son I have most loved and watched over in this world. 

Before leaving for Calcutta, I was required to wait upon Lord 
Reading, a former Viceroy and Lord Chief Justice, who acted as gen- 
eral adviser to the financial trust which owned the Statesman. His office 
was in a large building at Blackfriars, on the Embankment I found him 
seated at a desk with nothing on it, looking immensely old and Jewish 
and worldly. The very texture of his face was like a parchment deed 
made out in his favour; with his beak of a nose, a flourishing signature, 
and his tight red mouth, the seal. Actually, as I soon discovered, he was 
in a mood of jubilation, and for a strange reason. Gandhi had been going 
through one of his occasional phases of unpopularity because of a clash 
with Hindu orthodoxy - the same thing that led ultimately to his as- 
sassination - and that very day it had been reported in the papers that he 
had been stoned by fellow-Indians. Nothing could have pleased Reading 
more. When he had been Viceroy, the stones were all thrown at him on 
Gandhi’s behalf ; now they were being thrown at Gandhi. His parchment 
face was positively beaming, and, if not actually rubbing his hands 
together, he seemed to be on the point of doing so. So overpowering 
was his delight at the turn of events that I wondered if he really remem- 
bered the purpose of my being there in his office, apart from a vague 
awareness that it had something to do with my going to India. Anyway, 
we talked briefly about my own, scarcely Viceregal, time in Travancore, 
and I mentioned that Gandhi had visited Alwaye when I was there. 
This set him off, and again he was far away, watching the grotesque 
little figure in the loincloth, the hostile crowd pushing towards him, the 
stones falling round him; instead of the everlasting * Mahatma Gandhi 
ki jai' which had so often assailed his ears (though only distantly, as he 
sat secure in his Viceregal carriage), this time, angry, derisory shouts. 
It was, in his eyes, a delectable reversal of fortune. When he got up to 



296 The Infernal Grove 

shake hands and indicate that my audience was over, I was quite sur- 
prised to find that he was wearing an ordinary lounge suit. I had all 
along been seeing him in buckskin breeches and a gilded coat shining 
with orders and decorations. A secretary took me to lunch in a canteen 
in the basement; he told me that Reading had recently been married 
for the second time, to a lady a good deal younger than himself. She 
had particularly instructed him, the secretary said, to see that her cele- 
brated husband did not eat oysters - a difficult assignment because he 
was greatly addicted to them. 

Another call I was required to make before leaving for Calcutta was 
on the then Secretary of State for India, Sir Samuel Hoare. He received 
me at the India office, very suave and genial. Reading looked back on 
Viceregal days; Hoare perhaps saw himself as one day becoming Vice- 
roy. Meanwhile, the Reforms! He was for them heart and soul; and, 
indeed, piloted them through the House of Commons with skill and 
subtlety, warmly cheered on from Printing House Square and Cross 
Street, for once in unison. He asked me to write to him from time to 
time about how things were going at the Indian end, which I gladly 
undertook to do. Face still Quakerish, but with worldly accretions, 
Hoare’s Bank intervening between the Society of Friends and Rt Hon. 
Hon., Gallant and Learned ones in the House of Commons; neatly 
attired, sleek, with white kid tops to his boots, he felt himself to be in 
charge of India’s destiny. In that same office of his, seated at that self- 
same desk, had not successive Secretaries of State settled the affairs of 
India and its hundreds of millions of inhabitants, far, far away though 
they might be. As I tried to point out in our correspondence, duly en- 
gaged in when I got to India, things were different now. He might push 
the tiller this way or that, but the ship would not respond. Surely, it 
couldn’t be quite as bad as that, he wrote back. But couldn’t it? All 
that grinding of Parliamentary mills; all those divisions, sometimes 
through the night; the flushed faces and dishevelled hair, Churchill on 
his feet, papers waved - Here! Here! Shame! Resign! At last, le roy Is 
veult. A triumph for the Secretary of State, The Times and the Guardian 
intoned, and a tribute to his patience and persistence. Even so, when 
the hour struck, the Raj fell, like others before it, and what had hap- 
pened, or was to happen, in Westminster and Whitehall had little or no 
bearing on the manner of its falling, or on the sequel. 

How different was my journey to India and arrival in Calcutta this 
time, from the previous occasion ten years before! On the boat, Viceroy 
of India 9 and the train from Bombay to Calcutta, I travelled, of course, 



The Iron Gates 297 

first-class. Now I had become a Burra Sahib indeed, however much I 
might try, conversationally and in my attitude of mind, to pretend 
otherwise. This was gratifying to my conceit, but otherwise a source of 
wretchedness, which was crystallised in an incident, trivial in itself, 
which nonetheless made a deep impression on me. A missionary who 
was travelling second-class on the same boat, and who had known me 
when I was at Alwaye, sought me out for a chat. We greeted one another 
affectionately, and then, after we had exchanged a few words, he looked 
at me strangely and said: ‘You’ve changed, you’re quite different.* I 
knew exactly what he meant, but I tried to pass his remark off facetiously ; 
saying something about being older, though not wiser. Shortly after- 
wards, he got up abruptly and left me. I never saw him again, but what 
he said stayed with me. 

The year I spent in Calcutta was easily the most melancholy of my 
life. For once I kept a diary regularly, which I find now so full of misery 
and self-pity as to be barely readable. I lived in a flat above the Statesman 
office with a man named Wordsworth - he claimed to be some sort of 
descendant of the poet - who was acting-editor of the paper when I 
arrived. He had been in the Indian Educational Service; then had moved 
over to journalism. A short, plump, pasty man, who had all the correct 
liberal views and attitudes of mind ; believing, for instance, that it would 
be possible, through constitutional changes, to transform the British 
Raj peaceably into a Westminster-style self-governing democracy. Also 
that the League of Nations, given the proper support, might be relied 
on to keep the peace while remedying Germany’s legitimate grievances. 
And so on. I must have been a disagreeable member of the household. 
His soft persistence in upholding such views led me to go out of my way 
to pour scorn and ridicule on them, as well as on all his heroes, like 
Anthony Eden, Noel Baker, Robert Cecil and Gilbert Murray. 

Among some old papers I kept from this time in Calcutta, I came 
across a leader I had written when Wordsworth was in the chair, heavily 
scored by his editorial pencil. It was headed ‘Towards A Repetition of 
1914’, and began: ‘It is interesting to look back and see how, little by 
little, Germany has shuffled out of the Treaty of Versailles,’ and goes on 
to point out that this process did not begin with Hitler and the Nazis, 
nor was it a consequence of the harsh treatment Germany suffered at 
the hands of the Allies; it started before the Treaty was even concluded. 
‘No sooner, that is to say, was the war over than Germany began to 
prepare for another.’ This sentence was deleted, and Hitler given a 
‘Herr’. Thereafter, when his name occurred, it was usually replaced by 



298 The Infernal Grove 

‘the Nazis', as though to indicate that there was a distinction between 
him and his followers. I was not allowed to say that there were plenty 
of people, including the Foreign Secretary, ‘who appear to think that, 
although Germany has just publicly repudiated one treaty, peace may 
be safeguarded by persuading her to sign another'. Nor that trying to 
coax Germany back into the League of Nations in the hope that thereby 
European security might be safeguarded, was like sending a criminal 
who has broken all the laws in one country, into another where the laws 
were different, in the expectation that there he would be law-abiding. 
Even in my concluding sentence: ‘While Sir John Simon tries to soothe 
Hitler back to Geneva, and Mr Anthony Eden carries his load of well- 
worn platitudes from one capital to another, everything is being pre- 
pared for the final stage - a repetition of 1914, only worse', ‘platitudes’ 
is altered to ‘arguments'. This old, dog-eared leader with its rash of 
heavy pencilled deletions, is, in its tiny way, an historical document, 
providing, as it does, a true image of the spirit of appeasement which 
had already captivated so many of the righteous and the enlightened, 
like Wordsworth. I cannot now remember whether or not, as editorially 
amended, it ever appeared in the paper; if it did, it would have made 
no conceivable difference to anyone or anything, even though the con- 
cluding prediction was to come true, and more than true, before five 
years had passed. 

Over my desk there was a large fan, which, turning, scattered the 
papers on my desk, and blew the sheet in my typewriter back on itself, 
with disastrous consequences to my typing. On the other hand, to turn 
the fan off left me sitting with a stagnant mind in stagnant air. So, I 
was always turning it on and off; as I did, likewise, such thoughts as I 
could muster -two parallel processes. It was the period when some 
White Paper, or Blue Book, or Royal Commission Report relating to 
India was always coming out. Since they were all accorded editorial 
treatment, they needed to be studied, analysed, criticised, even though 
they had little, if any, relevance to the actual existing situation - a tot- 
tering Imperial Power confronted with a rising tide of nationalism, 
still attached to the bizarre figure of Gandhi, but with other Indian 
leaders - mostly western-educated, like Nehru, and Moslem zealots like 
Jinnah - increasingly taking a hand. It seemed obvious to me that there 
could only be one outcome ; the British would have to go. Yet they them- 
selves, in their clubs and offices, at their mah-jong and bridge tables, 
on their polo-grounds and tennis-courts, were serenely convinced that, 
with some adjustments here and there, the Raj, in one form or another, 



The Iron Gates 299 

would go on for centuries yet. A favourite saying among them was that, 
if the British left, within six months the Indians would be down on 
their knees begging them to come back. It seems almost inconceivable 
now, but this was seriously believed. Certainly, I cannot recall meeting 
a single British business man or government official, soldier or even 
missionary, who would have considered it possible that the Raj was to 
end before the twentieth century had half run its course. 

This made it difficult to talk seriously with them about the Raj and 
its outcome; still more to write seriously about it in the Statesman, 
which was the organ of British business interests, particularly in Bengal, 
and largely dependent on them for its very substantial advertising rev- 
enue. So I just did what I had to do, without bothering too much about 
it. Bored in a way, and yet not bored; for instance, finding something 
vivid and captivating in the scene each night when the paper was going 
to press. The humid heat hanging over everything, muffling sounds and 
smudging galleys; the strange chant of the proof-readers, in which 
stock prices, cricket scores, and even at times maybe words of my own, 
were all mixed up, and addressed, as it seemed, to some deity. But who? 
Their Excellencies? Sun Life? BP? Perhaps returning after dinner, 
rather tipsy, cigar-smoking, white dinner-jacketed, to drop into the 
subs’ room to see if there was any news. Tliere, inscrutable faces, and 
such a variety of heads ; some of them shaved, wholly or partially, maybe 
with a shaved strip down the middle like an airport runway; others 
tousled, turbaned, with or without buns, bent over copy or Linotype 
machines. Despite the noise and the chatter, like the night itself, all so 
still. Anglo-Indian girls, rather beautiful and hopeless, beautiful in 
their hopelessness - Ivy, Gladys, Renee; barely contained in their 
dresses. Down below, the rotaries, recently installed, pounding away; 
they, too, leaving intact that brooding stillness, heavy and fathomless. 
Holding a galley in my hand to look at it - ‘Before any forward step 
can be taken, terrorism must stop; that is the first condition . . damp 
patches marking where I had held it, the ink running. When we were 
filming Txoilight of Empire, I turned over the pages of bound volumes 
of the Statesman covering the time that I worked on it, and read out 
sentences as empty and as turgid. Did I write them? Honesty com- 
pelled me to admit that I might have. 

The greatest alleviation of my dismal life in Calcutta was a friendship 
I had with four Indians. It started with Shahid Suhrawardy, who had 
heard of my coming to Calcutta from Hugh Kingsmill’s brother, Brian 
Lunn, and so he sought me out I liked him at once. He had the virtues 



300 The Infernal Grove 

of his faults; heavily pock-marked, a great fantasist, reputedly a dedi- 
cated womaniser, and belonging to one of the leading Moslem families 
in Bengal. The adventure of his life had been to go to Russia, where he 
fell in with a theatrical company and became the lover of the leading 
lady. Though he was separated from her, he continued to send her a 
substantial part of his salary as Professor of Fine Arts at Calcutta Uni- 
versity; a post that made little demands on his time and energies, there 
being few students, and they not particularly diligent, and no arts, fine 
or otherwise. Through Shahid I met the others - Sudhindranath Datta, 
a Bengali poet who had been Rabindranath Tagore’s secretary, Apurbo 
Chanda, a large, jovial man, a civil servant, at that time Calcutta’s acting 
Director of Education, and Tulsi Goswami, a rich landowner and Con- 
gress politician. Sudhin was the most elegant and cultivated of them, and 
the one I came in the end to know and love best; Tulsi the most dazzling, 
whose wearing of kadi, or homespun cloth, as a good follower of Gandhi, 
did not prevent him from looking like a dandy and living a life of great 
extravagance and self-indulgence; Chanda large, cheerful and amicable. 

We met often, and at least once a week dined together, either at one 
of their houses, or in a restaurant - often a Chinese one because Shahid 
had romantic notions about China; sometimes in the Bengal Club, of 
which I was now a member. This necessitated having a private room, 
Indians not being allowed in the club dining-room. I must say, as I 
often told them, they missed nothing by being excluded; but even so it 
was vaguely embarrassing. It seems extraordinary now that such absurd 
arrangements were maintained almost up to the end of the Raj. 

The motive of the Calcutta Sahibs and their Memsahibs for thus 
guarding their exclusivity so jealously was social rather than racial or 
political. Service in India, whether in Government, commerce or even 
as a missionary, provided, in its day, a ready means of instant social 
climbing. It was perfectly possible to acquire an upper-class way of life, 
with servants, playing polo, changing for dinner and other intimations of 
gentility in a single generation. Furthermore, a socially aspiring Sahib, 
by sending his progeny to public schools, could ensure that they took 
this changed status for granted, and so were firmly integrated into the 
upper classes from the beginning. This was one of the attractions of 
Empire for its lowlier devotees, and maybe, too, why its loss has tended 
to produce revolutionary impulses among those who would have been its 
beneficiaries - the Brushwood Boys with nowhere to go, the Sanderses 
without a River, the Bulldog Drummonds hopelessly studying the 
classified advertisements in the Daily Telegraph. 



The Iron Gates 301 

On my first visit to India none of this arose, but in Calcutta it did. 
I used to go riding in the early morning on the Maidan, or out at the 
Jodhpur Club. Being up on a horse is a great assertion of social distinc- 
tion-being a knight rather than a pawn; the riding schools flourish 
with the gossip-columns. Fortunately for me, by some special mercy, 
whenever I have been caught up in knightly fancies, something has 
always happened to make me look ridiculous. Don Quixote rather than 
Sir Galahad has been my prototype. Thus, riding in the Maidan one 
morning, my horse ran away with me; pounding along, I noticed a little 
compact group of horsemen, one of whom detached himself, and came 
racing after me. As my horse lost its momentum - due to fatigue rather 
than to anything I did - he caught up with me, and angrily asked me 
whether I realised that I had galloped past His Excellency, the Governor. 
I said I hadn’t realised it, but even if I had I shouldn’t have been able 
to do anything because my horse had run away with me. Whereupon, he 
muttered something about how riders as incompetent as I obviously was, 
ought not to be allowed to use the Maidan; and anyway not to let 
it happen again. The governor in question was none other than Sir 
John Anderson, a portentous civil servant who subsequently became 
Churchill’s Home Secretary in the war, and gave his name to an air-raid 
shelter, ending up as Viscount Waverley. 

Some fifteen years later, when I was a newspaper correspondent in 
Washington, Walter Bell, the then British Ambassador, Lord Inver- 
chapel’s PA, telephoned to say that they had Lord Waverley staying at 
the Embassy, and could I possibly arrange some sort of journalistic party 
for him. This was duly done. In the course of the evening I mentioned 
the incident on the Maidan in Calcutta, but it did not please him; how- 
ever it was told, it presupposed a certain pomposity on his part. I did not 
add that it cured me for ever of feeling important on a horse. In appear- 
ance, he was more like a bronze statue of a man than a man and might, in 
the ordinary way, have expected to figure on one in the streets of Calcutta. 
The cities of the Empire used to be full of such statues of British soldiers 
and administrators. Now they have mostly been removed, the few left 
standing, forgotten and neglected, for the birds to use; one or two of 
the very famous - a General Gordon, a Kitchener - sent home at great 
expense. The process of change has been speeding up so fast that al- 
ready some of their indigenous successors have fallen out of favour and 
likewise been removed - for instance, Nkrumah in Accra. History is 
written in statues as well as in blood. 

My four Indian friends were, of course, all nationalists, or Swarajists , 



302 The Infernal Grove 

though Tulsi was the only practising militant. At the same time, in 
education and tastes, and even habits, they were completely Anglicised. 
Indeed, it was I who often found myself arguing most strongly against 
the cultural and spiritual consequences of the Raj, and insisting that it 
would only truly come to an end if it were pulled up by the roots, not 
just sliced off. Otherwise the white Sahibs would be dismissed, only to 
be replaced by brown ones. Sudhin alone really agreed with me about 
this; he felt differently, perhaps, because Bengali was his true language 
and medium of expression, whereas, in the case of the others, it was 
English. Shahid regarded himself, anyway, as a cosmopolitan; in Europe 
he spoke nostalgically about the sensual delights offered by Oriental 
women, and in India he was in raptures over the pleasures he had 
experienced in the arms of European ones. Kharma Sutra abroad, Fanny 
Hill at home. Tulsi, who had made a runaway marriage with the 
daughter of the only Indian peer, Lord Sinha, was by upbringing and 
temperament an aristocrat, and seemingly perfectly at ease in all circum- 
stances; Chanda likewise, by virtue of the sheer ebullience of his nature. 

Yet in all of them I sensed an undercurrent of melancholy, corres- 
ponding to my own. This was especially true of Sudhin; but Shahid, too, 
despite his outward show of being a contented sensualist, looked tired 
and lost when his face fell into repose. In Tulsi’s case, he drank excess- 
ively, and, in the end, self-destructively, to evade thoughts that might 
sadden him; and even Chanda was liable to fall unaccountably into long 
silences. Deep inside them they knew that this western culture they had 
so brilliantly acquired, this very English language they spoke so fluently 
and idiomatically, and, in Sudhin’s case with great artistry, these ancient 
seats of learning (they had all been at Oxford or Cambridge) where they 
had been so proud to be alumni that it had all seen its best days, and was 
now in a decline, and they with it. Though in a sense I was in the same 
case, it was at least a home-produced gold brick that I was landed with; 
whereas, what they had acquired at such great trouble and expense was 
an imported product. Sudhin called the elegant fragment of auto- 
biography he left behind him ‘ The Twilight World *. No one has described 
this no-man’s-land between a dying Indian culture and a debased 
western one more subtly and delicately than he. It was the habitat of all 
my four friends, and, in somewhat different terms, my own. A twilight 
growing ever darker. 

We went on a visit together to Santiniketan, the ashram founded by 
Rabindranath Tagore; it, too, a confluence of cultural streams. William 
Morris knights-at-arms, on elephants instead of white horses; there’s 



The Iron Gates 303 

shade under the banion tree, brother; arrows of non-desire building a 
garden city in India’s dry and dusty land. In the morning we were 
awakened by acolytes singing under our windows, and in the evening 
we sat at the Poet’s feet, listening, along with the other ashram residents, 
to an address by him. He was a majestic figure with a long silky beard, 
robed rather than dressed, hair parted in the middle - a sort of ethereal 
Rasputin; a steeple to Gandhi’s gargoyle. The two of them represented 
the poles of Indian nationalism; Poet and Mahatma, with Miss Slade, an 
admiral’s daughter, shuttling between them. A German lady, spectacled, 
head shaved, and wearing a saffron robe, continued to spin as the Poet 
exhorted us to turn away from western materialism. I preferred her in 
saffron to dirndl. 

My four friends looked forward to Indian Independence, but also, 
in their different ways, consciously or unconsciously, dreaded it. Even 
Tulsi, who for a time was actually a Congress Minister in the Bengal 
Government, and who would certainly have given everything he had - 
including his life - for the Swarajist cause, as I well knew, kept hidden 
deep down in his heart some reservations. Our parts in history are 
allotted, not chosen; and theirs belonged to the Raj, which they hated, 
rather than to the Swaraj, whose coming to pass they sought. Curiously 
enough, the one who in worldly terms throve most when Independence 
came was Shahid, who cared least about it. As a Moslem, western- 
educated and with some academic distinction, he had a rarity value in the 
newly constituted Pakistan, and was made chairman of the Civil Service 
Commission responsible for appointments to government posts. I met 
him briefly when he occupied this position, and he complained wryly 
that, though he could appoint others, himself he could not appoint. In 
time, he must somehow have overcome this difficulty, because he was 
posted as Ambassador to Madrid; a congenial appointment, Spain being 
a country he liked, and, as he was happy to find, harbouring few 
Pakistani nationals, which made his duties correspondingly unexacting. 
I saw him several times during this period; he had grown very deaf, but 
his face had come to wear an expression of great serenity and benevolence. 
Soon after he retired and returned to Karachi, I heard that he had died. 

The other three were less fortunate. Tulsi ran through his fortune, 
and his health collapsed. Once when I happened to be passing through 
Calcutta, Sudhin took me to see him. We found that he had recently 
suffered a stroke, which had partially paralysed him, and made it 
difficult for him to speak. As we sat with him, he was struggling to say 
something, which turned out to be that he was distressed I should see 



304 The Infernal Grove 

him in so poor a state. I tried to tell him - 1 hope so much that I 
succeeded - that it was a joy to me to see him always. This was true. 
Even then, a dying man, something of the charm, the gaiety and 
profligacy, which had so captivated me when we first met, still remained. 
I knew I should never see him again, and was glad of an opportunity to 
say good-bye. He died a few weeks later. Sudhin himself, as a Bengali 
poet and writer of the highest reputation, might have been expected to 
thrive in post-Raj India. Instead, he chose to make himself partially an 
exile, and went with his wife, Rajeshwiri, an accomplished singer and 
musician, on a protracted foreign tour. I saw him several times in the 
course of it, but had the feeling even then that he was taking a last look 
at the places and people and things he cared most about. I thought 
I detected something muted in him; a smiling disregard for the projects 
-in his case, among others, a definitive biography of Tagore -the 
world always heaps in the laps of those with no zest to undertake them. 
Back in Calcutta, one night he just died. As for Chanda - in the last 
conversation I had with him, in one of the Calcutta clubs some years 
after India had become independent, he complained bitterly about the 
dreadful people who, under the Nehru Raj, managed to get themselves 
elected as members; for all the world like some ferocious Indian Colonel 
Blimp. Now he, too, has died and I alone remain. 

Though I was nominally living in Calcutta, I was not really living 
there at all. It was extraordinary how, as a Sahib in India, this could be 
done. For instance, I had a car with a driver, and he drove me wherever 
I wanted to go, from door to door; the shops and restaurants and 
cinemas and clubs frequented by Sahibs were clean and orderly, insula- 
ted from the teeming town. In the crowded streets, my driver would 
sound his hooter persistently, and a way would be opened before us; 
shadowy figures melting away, gibbering and grimacing. If, as I some- 
times did, I walked through the bazaar, I might actually rub shoulders 
with fellow-pedestrians, but if they saw it was a Sahib, as likely as not 
they would draw aside. Again, if I showed interest in a particular shop, 
the shop-keeper would drop whatever he was doing, leave any customer 
he happened to be serving, to attend to my requirements. Though such 
treatment in some ways appealed to my vanity and egotism, it was a 
hateful feeling to be thus cut off from the life and people of the city. 
Sometimes I would stand on the balcony of the flat above the Statesman 
office, and look down at the street below - Chowringee - envious of 
passers-by pushing and elbowing their way along the pavement, the road 
likewise packed with jostling vehicles, trams and cars and rickshaws and 



The Iron Gates 305 

bicycles all mixed up. Below me, the noise of an Indian street, with its 
jabber and bells and shouts; and I up above there, cut off from it all, 
isolated in the absurdity of the additional caste the English had created 
in India, over-topping all the others. 

On one occasion I did get involved, and then too nearly for my taste. 
Driving me to a dinner party for which I was rather late, my driver ran 
a man over. I felt the jerk as it happened. The driver naturally stopped 
the car, and at once a crowd began to gather; faces peering in at me 
angrily through the windows, shaking their fists, shouting, suddenly 
wild and furious. There were no policemen about, and no one, as far as 
I could see, had sent for an ambulance. Was there even one available for 
such lowly casualties? I began to wonder what was going to happen, 
when my driver, with great presence of mind, got out of the car, picked 
up the injured - or, for all I knew, dead - man, deposited him beside the 
driving-seat, and drove off as fast as he could go to the nearest hospital. 
It all happened so quickly that there was no time for the crowd to react. 
A few stones came hurtling after us, that was all. At the hospital, the 
man was taken to the emergency ward to be examined, and I trailed 
along, thinking that perhaps, as a Sahib, I might be able to get him 
attended to more quickly. I felt particularly absurd in my dinner jacket; 
the more so because, in order not to get any blood on it, I kept well 
away from the injured man. Everywhere bodies were stretched out, 
overflowing from the wards into the corridors. It was difficult to avoid 
treading on them. To my great relief, it appeared that my man had 
suffered no serious injury, and was only shaken. While I was arranging 
matters for him - inevitably producing some money, the only thing I 
had to give; rupees, pieces of paper, too easily earned, with die King- 
Emperor’s head on them - another emergency case was brought in. This 
time, it was a man who had cut his throat. 

I shuddered at the gaping hole in his neck; at the blood, and his grey, 
inert face. Who was he? No one seemed to know, or to care much either. 
All I wanted to do was to get away. Back to my dinner party, a drink, 
talk, spoons dipping into soup, servants in red cummerbunds passing 
round plates of food and bottles of wine - a scene calculated to put out 
of sight and mind this other one of sprawling bodies, and the man with 
the gashed throat who was too inconsequential even to have a name, or 
arouse curiosity as to why he should have cut a gaping hole in his wind- 
pipe; his single gesture of defiance against a world which seemed 
indifferent whether he lived or died. 

At our dinner-table conversation I mentioned the incident, giving 



306 The Infernal Grove 

rise to a number of sage observations. Calcutta medical services very 
inadequate, traffic control deplorable; anyway life held cheap in the 
East -look at the way they treat animals 1 - in contradistinction to the 
West, where the individual was valued. Yes, admittedly in the recent 
war there’d been retrogression, but that wasn’t going to happen again. 
We were learning; hence the League of Nations. What about trans- 
migration? Maybe my man hoped to have a better break in another 
incarnation; to be bom in Croydon, say, instead of Calcutta, and pass 
matriculation, and take books out of the public library. In Calcutta we’d 
reduced infant mortality, certainly, which, of course, was a good 
thing - no one was going to deny that - but led to the other difficulty; 
too many people, my man being one of the surplus. So it went on 
through the evening, until it was time to call for our cars and go; but 
I still hadn’t managed to exorcise that other scene in the hospital. Even 
years afterwards, when I was back in Calcutta with Mother Teresa, it 
came back more vividly than ever. I could not but contrast my attitude 
with hers; not just in the sense that we moved in opposite directions — 
she to where the poor and afflicted were, and I away from them. It was 
in her response to them that the true contrast lay; she seeing in each 
sorrowing, suffering human being, neither a body surplus to a popula- 
tion norm, nor a waste product, but the image of a sorrowing, suffering 
Saviour, so that in solacing them she had the inestimable honour and 
joy of solacing him. A Via Dolorosa that was also a Via Gloriosa . 

In my office, I worked more often at Samuel Butler than on con- 
tributions to the Statesman's editorial columns. I daresay the conditions 
under which I wrote about him - with the fan churning up the stagnant, 
humid air, and my stagnant mind needing to be churned up likewise if it 
was to function at all - affected my view of him and his books. Sentences 
came laboriously, and the very physical effort of typing left me limp and 
exhausted. Visitors occasionally dropped in, breaking the thread of my 
thoughts; mostly Indians, who had a disconcerting way of sitting on and 
on in total silence. There was, for instance, B, a barrister-at-law who 
had been at Harrow and Oxford. His ostensible purpose was to collect a 
book for review (books, even new ones, soon had a damp, musty smell in 
Bengal’s humid climate), but, as he put it, he’d just pushed his head 
through the door to say Salaam. His appearance still bore some traces of 
Inns of Court formality - alpaca jacket, winged collar, watch-chain, but 
with the lost eyes, weak mouth and sometimes tremulous hands of a 
drunkard. He had legal tales to tell - repartee of a Birkenhead, eloquence 
of a Patrick Hastings, skill of a Birkett. ‘My guru,' he said to me once, 



The Iron Gates 307 

‘is Hilaire Belloc.’ It was almost unbearably poignant; after all, B was 

our creation. .... . , , 

In such circumstances, I saw Butler more luridly than I might other- 
wise have done, as symbolising everything I most abhorred. In my 
estimation, the poor fellow might have drafted the League of Nations 
Covenant, been a founder-member of the Fabian Society and a Friend of 
the Soviet Union, instead of holding strongly conservative views about 
everything except homosexuality and patricide; he being homosexual 
himself, and hating his father for persistently refusing to die and leave 
him his money. Like Columbus stumbling upon America when he 
thought he was finding a route to India, Butler, all unconsciously blazed 
a trail which many have subsequently followed. Thus, through The Way 
of All Flesh , published posthumously, he helped to make it as fashionable 
to detest parents as formerly it had been to revere them. His sentimental, 
timid homosexuality likewise went down well among the enlightened; as 
also did his profound respect for money as the source of all happiness, 
and the condition of personal freedom. ‘No gold, no Holy Ghost’ he 
jotted down in one of his grotesquely over-praised Notebooks. 

Excoriating Butler through leaden Bengal afternoons and evening, 
seated under a fan; breaking off to cope with the Report of the Joint 
Select Parliamentary Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform (‘A 
state paper of the highest importance whose language is adequate to the 
gravity of the scene . . .’); then back to Butler, and his weekly visits to a 
French lady in Handel Street, whom he shared with his friend and 
future biographer, Festing Jones, though on different days — in the 
circumstances, I consider it quite a feat that the book was somehow 
finished and dispatched to the publisher. A good part of the credit was 
due to Kitty, who patiently went through the Butler papers, lodged 
with Geoffrey Keynes, the brother of Maynard; copying out for me 
what she thought would be of interest or significance, and doing it so 
skilfully that pretty well every scrap of material she sent me was usable. 
I had been to see Keynes and his fellow literary executor before leaving 
for India, and found him a fussy, finicky man, with whom I should have 
found it difficult to deal. Needless to say, when he read my book he 
hated it, and I half-feared that there would be a repetition of what 
happened with Picture Palace. It was within his power to prevent 
publication because of my use of copyright material. However, though 
less liberal in principle than the Guardian, to my great relief he behaved 
more liberally, and contented himself with just expressing his own 
personal distaste and disapproval 



308 The Infernal Grove 

It was from Mr Cathie, Butler’s servant, whom I met shortly before 
leaving for India, that I got the details of the visits Butler and Festing 
Jones paid to Handel Street each week. Cathie was a respectable-looking 
man in a dark suit, stiff collar and shirt-front, who had set up in a 
grocery business after Butler’s death, and who proved to be a true 
disciple of his late master by at once raising the question of remunera- 
tion. We agreed on a fiver in advance, to be followed by another at the 
end of our confabulations. The Governor,* he told me, ‘would go every 
Wednesday afternoon. “Oh, bother, Alfred,” he’d say. “It’s Wednesday 
today, and I’ve got to go to Handel Street.” He’d leave about two-thirty 
and be back by five, walking both ways.’ Jones, it appeared, went on 
Thursdays, but how long he stayed, and whether he, too, walked both 
ways, Mr Cathie did not know, or particularly care. ‘He was always 
crying,’ he said of Jones, whom he obviously disliked. Of the French 
lady herself, he said that she was dark and large, a fine-looking woman, 
whom the Governor had picked up one evening at Islington. He and 
Jones paid her a pound a week each, including their holidays. While they 
were away, Mr Cathie handed over the money in person, and, as he put 
it, took her out once or twice himself. Rightly or wrongly, the impression 
I formed was that on these occasions he considered himself to have been 
more than the equal of the other two together. 

Their hearts, anyway, whatever may have been the case with their 
bodies, were not in Handel Street, but with a Swiss youth named Hans 
Faesch, a lock of whose hair they wore, turn and turn about, in a locket 
suspended from their watch-chains. Together, they saw Hans off from 
Holbom Viaduct Station when he went to Singapore. Butler celebrated 
the occasion with some verses beginning: 

Out, out, into the night. 

With the wind bitter north-east and the sea rough. 

You have a racking cough and your lungs are weak, 

But out, out into the night you go. 

So guide you and guard you, Heaven, and fare you well, 
which he considered to be ‘the best thing I ever wrote’. He sent the 
verses to the Spectator for publication, but later withdrew them because, 
as he wrote to Hans, ‘things have happened in England which make 
Jones and me decide not to publish them even anonymously’. On 
Butler’s copy of this letter there is a note to the effect that the event in 
question was the trial of Oscar Wilde. Just before we separated, and 
after he had received his second fiver, Mr Cathie paused to remark: 
‘There’s one man I didn’t care for. Now what’s his name? I’ve got it - 



The Iron Gates 309 

Bern ard Shaw [accentuating the second syllable of ‘Bernard*]. I didn’t 
care for the way he spoke at the Erewhon Dinner. Not at all. And the 
Governor didn’t care for him either. “He’s a beast,” he said when he 
came back from seeing him. “He’s a beast I’” Mr Cathie departed 
chuckling. After being thus briefed by Mr Cathie, I visited Handel 
Street with Hugh Kingsmill and Hesketh Pearson to identify the 
house. While we were there, Kingsmill drew so hilarious a picture of 
these weird transactions, including the French lady’s imagined com- 
parison between M. Mercredi and M. Jeudi, and a recitation of ‘Out, 
out, out into the night*, that by the time he had finished, Hesketh and 
I were holding onto lamp-posts, helpless with laughter. 

My book on Butler, when it appeared, offended all the critics, E. M. 
Forster called it a cross-patch of a book, and Desmond McCarthy, the 
reigning pundit at the time, devoted two whole articles in the Sunday 
Times to demolishing it. Needless to say, the Butler cult has continued 
unabated, and even to this day Mr Cathie’s Governor is held up as a 
Voltarian exploder of Victorian humbug and complacency; whereas, in 
point of fact, he was himself - if there is such a thing - the quintes- 
sential Victorian. It is curious how often the cult figure turns out, on 
investigation, to be the antithesis of the cult he is supposed to have 
initiated. Who, for instance, would have disliked O! Calcutta more than 
D. H. Lawrence? Or Stalinism more than Karl Marx? 

By this time, the editor of the Statesman , Arthur Moore, had returned 
from leave. He had only lately been appointed to the editorship, after 
his predecessor, Alfred Watson, had been shot at by a Bengal terrorist 
for some articles that Moore had written. It was a rather embarrassing 
basis for inheriting the position, especially as Watson would have been 
well content to stay on. However, the proprietors considered this would 
be imprudent, and so Watson returned to London, where he frequented 
the National Liberal Club and was knighted. Moore had worked for 
The Times as correspondent in Persia, and very much belonged to that 
tradition. In happier circumstances he might well have been offered the 
throne of Albania, or have sent long delayed messages from Mecca or 
Tibet, or trudged through Outer Mongolia. As it was, he had turned up 
in Calcutta, where his mercurial temperament took him from the out- 
and-out imperialist position which might have cost Watson his life, and 
did cost him his job, to one of close affinity with the Swarajists. He was 
a gifted, unstable, Northern Irishman, fated to make a mess of his ca- 
reer, not through being too rigid - which is one way of doing it - but 
through being too flexible - which is another. I noticed that Europeans 



310 The Infernal Grove 

living in India either grow duskier or whiter; Moore was in the latter 
category. Belieing his political views, he grew whiter and whiter, the 
impression being intensified when, after he left the Statesman , he stayed 
on in Delhi and grew a black beard. Towards the end of his life he fell 
on evil days, and came to see me once about some project or other. I 
received him sympathetically, but, I regret to say, offered no effective 
help. 

Kitty came to Calcutta for a short visit at Christmas. It was an un- 
happy time for both of us, and the nearest our marriage came to break- 
ing up. Just before she left, we found ourselves briefly at one again, and, 
after she had gone, I sent her a long telegram saying that nothing could 
ever part us - as, indeed, has proved to be the case. Of all the memories 
I have to confront, the most hateful are occasions such as this, when I 
racked my mind to think of words which would hurt and allusions 
which would stir up bitterness. If there were any possibility of unsaying 
anything - which, of course, there isn’t - this is what I should most wish 
unsaid. The immediate cause of strife was, inevitably, infidelities. I 
think of them with a kind of wonder. Can I really have been so obsessed 
by a relationship which made so little lasting impression that now I have 
difficulty in recalling the person concerned? Did I really wait like that, 
with my heart furiously beating, for a telephone call? Bing a door bell, 
and listen with such a concentration of excitement to approaching foot- 
steps? Scribble notes so ardently? Tear open others received so eagerly? 
In the consequent pin-pointing of emotion and desire, feel the warmth 
of the sun on my back, breathe in the fragrance of jasmine in a garden, 
with sharpened senses? Aware, as never before, of the bright colours 
and silken texture of a sari, and the touch of fingers so soft and supple 
that they might have been boneless. Overwhelmed likewise by the 
sudden onslaught of night, velvety black, dancing with fire-flies; the 
stars themselves so near and bright that one of them might be a tiny 
jewel fixed in a nostril, and, at the same time, so distant that they seemed 
to be beyond the furthest limits of space, in the eternity that sensuality 
cannot reach? Was it really so? 

Don Juan, more even than Raskolnikov, is the hero of our time; his 
impersonation, our most gruelling servitude, the quest for his Unholy 
Grail our most tortuous journey. He is everywhere -on the motorways in 
his GB-ed car, at cocktail parties recce-ing the company ; a huntsman in a 
game-reserve. Once, in a Stockholm roof caf6, the people I was with hap- 
pened to mention that one of the waiters - a Canadian named Harry - was 
in the habit each evening of picking on one of the customers to come home 



The Iron Gates 3 1 1 

with him. They pointed him out to me; like the other waiters, wearing a 
sort of smartly cut red hunting jacket, and weaving his way among the 
tables while holding aloft his tray loaded with bottles and glasses. 
Examining him curiously, I noticed that his face had a rapt, almost 
mystical expression, as though his thoughts were far removed from the 
mundane business of serving drinks and collecting tips; at the same 
time, full of the ineffable sadness that comes of seeking the attainable. 
A People’s Byron; the egotist persisting in his egotism to the point of 
becoming disinterested; the carnal so ardently pursued that it becomes 
a kind of spirituality. Looking more closely, I saw that he was older 
than I had thought. There were wrinkles, a certain thinning, and even 
perhaps greying, of the hair; a dry parchment look about the flesh. 
Did he always, I asked, manage to pull off his evening conquest? Nearly 
always, I was told, but there might be occasional evenings when some- 
thing went awry- when he made the wrong choice, or when he or the 
chosen one happened to be out of sorts. The pale Scandinavian light - 
it was summer and the days scarcely ended - hung over the scene, 
adding a macabre unearthly touch. 

Who can be expected to look for a God when there isn’t one? Or for 
perfection when there is nothing beyond the ticking of the clocks. 
What is to be done but play the Crucifixion backwards, and reverse the 
Logos - in the beginning was the flesh, and the flesh became Word? 
Celluloid the only recourse - moving pictures, presenting between 
Action! and Cut!, the seven ages of lechery. The pimply schoolboy 
creeping willingly into his sex-instruction classes; then the youthful, 
zestful sex-instructed lover. After him, the grown man, bearded like the 
pard, twin-slitted coat, motel habitu6, with contraceptives to hand, 
stoking up nature’s fires with bottled ones; followed by the seasoned 
veteran, round bellied, full of wise saws and modem instances culled 
from his Bond, his Clockwork Orange, his Last Tango. Finally, the 
lean and slippered pantaloon, with spectacles on nose, squinting into 
his TV screen; and last scene of all, a second childishness and mere 
oblivion, sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything; even - the ultimate 
desolation - sans telly. 

Moore disliked the views I expressed in my leaders no less than Words- 
worth did. So it was a great relief to us all three when it was decided that 
I should go to Simla and represent the paper during the summer months 
when the Government of India functioned there. My four friends saw 
me off at Calcutta Station; we were never to be all five together again. 



3 1 2 The Infernal Grove 

The train pulling out of the station, gave me an enormous sense of 
relief. For most of the fifteen months I had spent in Calcutta, I felt 
ill, dispirited, melancholy. Apart from somehow staggering through the 
Butler book, my time had been wasted and my mind vacuous. At last 
I was on the move again; and movement can seem a substitute for 
being. Like tops, we spin ever faster in order to be still. I stopped off in 
Delhi for a couple of days. India’s new capital was then still in process 
of construction; the only deliberate architectural monument the Raj 
left behind it. The foundation-stone was laid by King George V in a 
cemetery by mistake, and Clemenceau provided the perfect benediction 
when he said that, of the six ruined capitals round about the same site, 
the Raj’s would provide the most magnificent ruin of all. Even this is 
doubtful. The princes were never to take their places in the splendid 
Chamber of Princes designed for them, and it was in the garden of the 
Commander-in-Chief’s residence that, two decades later, smelling the 
roses still blooming there, I waited to record a television interview 
with Jawaharlal Nehru, ruler over an independent India. 

It was exhilarating to be in the little train climbing up into the 
mountains to Simla; the air getting appreciably cooler and fresher all 
the time, and bringing the travelling Sahibs visibly to life. To the hand- 
ful of English who manned the highest administrative posts, it seemed, 
even at this late hour, the most natural thing in the world that the govern- 
ment of some four hundred million souls should thus be transferred 
to a little mountain eyrie, so far away and so inaccessible. They found 
the hot weather oppressive in the plains; therefore, the whole lumbering 
administration must follow them to higher altitudes where they would 
be more comfortable. It was like moving a general headquarters in a war. 
Whole convoys of lorries carrying files and other documents, whole 
train-loads of clerks and minor personnel; then the heads of depart- 
ments, the staff-officers, and finally the Viceroy himself, at this time 
Lord Willingdon, and his Vicereine, along with their little court - their 
Comptroller-of-the-Household, their ADC’s and secretaries, valets and 
maids - to take up their residence in Viceregal Lodge, a hill-station ver- 
sion of an English country house. 

Simla, at any rate, was an authentic English production; designed by 
Sahibs for Sahibs, without reference to any other consideration - not 
even Maharajahs. If, in the future, it is desired (something extremely 
improbable) to preserve some genuine memorial of British rule in India, 
then Simla is the place which really conveys what it was like; and, 
mysteriously, still does. The church, whose dilapidated state is not 



The Iron Gates 313 

apparent in the distance; the Mall, along which the Sahibs and their 
ladies took an airing on Sunday afternoons, with a band-stand where an 
army band entertained them with appropriate music as they strolled 
up and down, the ladies with parasols, the gentlemen in large white 
topees. There were separate houses for the more important officials, 
allotted in accordance with their status, their name and department 
indicated on a board at the gate, so that everyone knew who and what 
everyone was, from members of the Viceroy’s Council downwards. On 
the Mall, a little theatre where plays were produced, and Kipling once 
acted - Gilbert and Sullivan, Pinero, Barrie, and, more daringly, 
Noel Coward. Then Viceregal Lodge itself, with a special guard of 
Sikhs, their black curly beards in nets to keep them tidy, and Wildflower 
Hall, built by Lord Kitchener when he was Commander-in-Chief, 
some little distance away from Simla, just far enough to make a pleasant 
ride and to feel like a rival seat of authority. 

Journalists follow authority as sharks do a liner, hoping to feed off 
the waste it discharges, with perhaps someone occasionally falling 
overboard to make a meal, and once in a way the whole ship going down 
and providing a positive feast. There was a little band of us swimming 
along in the wake of the Government of India - Sandy Inglis, represen- 
ting The Times , and Jim Barnes, Reuter’s man, as well, of course, as any 
number of representatives of Indian newspapers and news-agencies. 
Public relations, as we know it today, was in its infancy, but already the 
Government of India had its spokesman, whom we constantly pursued 
for hand-outs and leakages, and to arrange interviews. Among other 
useful services, he made a point of mastering the first names of Indians 
who were going to be knighted, so that on the very day the Honours List 
came out, he had them pat -Sir Shrinivasa, Sir Rahimtoolah, Sir 
Giija. It was, in any case, a glad day for one and all. Indian politicians 
and civil servants were even more avid for honours than their English 
opposite numbers, and the distribution of knighthoods and lesser 
decorations, down to MBE’s, was followed with breathless interest; 
so much so, that equivalent post-Raj honours have had to be devised. 

Sandy Inglis and his wife Jean became great friends of mine. He was 
a shrewd, hard-working Scot, who toiled away at producing turn-over 
articles and news stories about the Reforms, packed tight with informa- 
tion, and full of sober hope for the future. Naturally, he deplored my 
disparagement of the very idea that the Raj could reform itself in any 
way that would be acceptable to the Swarajists. The Raj, I vociferously 
insisted, would either have to re-establish itself on an authoritarian 



3 1 4 The Infernal Grove 

basis - which was virtually inconceivable - or wind itself up, while pre- 
tending that power was being gradually and lawfully transferred to 
Indian hands with a view to creating an All-India democracy on West- 
minster lines. 

We often argued about this, mostly good-naturedly, but sometimes 
acrimoniously. I have never really been able to understand how anyone 
can believe in the possibility of compromise in matters of power, which 
is an absolutist passion, and felt the same incredulity in Simla about the 
proposed constitutional reforms as I did in Geneva about the League and 
the ILO as instruments for promoting international and industrial 
peace. Sandy, on the other hand, faithfully read and digested all the 
relevant documents, and patiently listened to the various officials con- 
cerned as they interminably explained what they were at and what they 
hoped to achieve. Extreme attitudes are often an excuse for laziness; if 
the apocalypse is just round the comer, why bother with what is to be 
done today or tomorrow? All the same, in this particular case it would 
seem that I lost nothing by avoiding an avalanche of irrelevant words, 
written and spoken, and that Sandy’s heroic labours to reduce them to 
some sort of sense were a barren pursuit. There never was to be any 
genuine constitutional reform; only a constitutional debacle, celebrated 
by Mr Attlee, the Prime Minister responsible, by a visit to the cinema. 
Or so his then Press Officer, Philip Jordan, told me. I like to think of the 
little man sitting in the three-and-six-pennies on the day the Bill making 
India and Pakistan independent states became law, and the Raj was 
finally wound up. Poor Sandy deserved better than that. 

Jim Barnes, the other English journalist in Simla, was the exact 
antithesis of Sandy - a fanatical admirer of Mussolini and pro-Fascist. 
A man with a violent temperament, to the point at times of seeming a 
little mad. He had just come from reporting the Italian conquest 
of Abyssinia for Reuter’s. I never read any of his by-lined dispatches, 
but it would surprise me if they were notable for impartiality and 
objectivity. He used to stride up and down the room gesticulating and 
bellowing about Eden, and the rottenness of British policy, and the 
feebleness of the Raj. Sometimes I went riding with him; he sat heavily 
on his horse, and on one occasion, when it persistently refused to 
canter, I heard him shouting into its ear: ‘You’re my slave, you’ve got to 
do what I say!’ His Italian wife was more measured in her attitude to 
Mussolini than he was, and just accepted her husband’s tantrums as an 
incidental affliction. Once I went to Mass with her, and on the way 
back, & propos of nothing, she said to me: ‘Perhaps one day God will 



The Iron Gates 3 1 5 

take pity on you/ Barnes’s father had been in the ICS, finishing up as 
Governor of Burma; his mother had died when quite young in Quetta, 
and was buried in the cemetery there, like many other Sahib’s wives, 
and he was brought up by his Strachey grandmother in Italy. The poor 
fellow never managed to sort himself out, and spent the 1939-45 war in 
Italy, where, like Ezra Pound, he broadcast anti-Allied propaganda, 
though, unlike Pound, he had no admirers or defenders in the victor’s 
camp. After the war, he hid in a monastery, where it would be nice to 
think he found the peace which had hitherto eluded him. Through his 
brother, George Barnes, for a while Broadcasting House’s Director of 
the Spoken Word (that inimitable title which only a Sir William Haley 
could have invented), and then Director of BBC Television, I was about 
to get a friendly message to him. Later, I heard that he had died. 

I doubt if any government has ever existed so cut off from the 
governed as the Government of India nestling among the Himalayas in 
Simla. Up there, we might read of rioting, or famines in the plains 
below, or - as happened when I was in Simla - of a ferocious earth- 
quake in Quetta but these disasters were far, far away, and scarcely 
impinged on us. For researchers into the nature of government, Simla 
provided a unique opportunity for studying one in isolation; examining 
it, as it were, under the microscope; without any confusing involvement 
in side issues, such as people, or demagogy, or armed forces, or taxes. 
It was government pure and undefiled; endlessly minuting and cir- 
culating files, which, like time itself, had neither beginning nor end, but 
just were. I grew familiar with the various government departments, 
trudging, as I had to, from one to the other to find out what, if anything, 
they were at. All housed in identical wooden structures, with broad 
verandahs, it was impossible to distinguish Finance from Home, or 
Political from Defence, except that, in the case of the last, instead of a 
peon in red and gold dozing at each office door, there would be a 
sepoy in khaki drill. Typewriters hard at work, Indian clerks and minor 
officials clustered together like bees in a hive, the senior officials still 
mostly Sahibs, and, at the centre of it all, the Queen Bee, or member of 
the Viceroy’s Council, responsible for the department in question. 

Mooning about in these departments, waiting to see someone I didn’t 
want to see in order to ask him questions I didn’t want answered, I used 
sometimes to think of India as I knew it. The dusty roads, the teeming 
bazaars, the lurid paddy fields, the sluggish rivers, the women carrying 
water from the well in pitchers on their heads, the brown bodies sweating 
in the sun as they followed behind the lumbering oxen and steered their 



3 1 6 The Infernal Grove 

wooden ploughs; the innumerable villages, and feet endlessly padding - 
little processions, a man leading, then a woman with a baby on her back, 
and a child barely able to walk, clutching her hand, other children 
trailing behind. Everywhere people; washing, sleeping, chanting, buy- 
ing, selling, giving birth, suckling, living, dying. Where was the con- 
nection between them and this typewriter fusilade, these dozing peons, 
the clerks, the Sahibs, the Members of the Viceroy’s Council? Power 
only exists in so far as it connects the government and the governed; 
the gap between them has to be spanned, whether by demagogy, or the 
long lashes of whips and barrels of guns, or lies shouted or borne on the 
waves of sound and light, or magical incantations and emanations, or, as 
is more commonly the case, by some combination of all or some of them. 
In the case of Anglo-India, the gap had widened to the point that it was 
no longer spannable. Governors and governed were like two jagged 
coastlines, with a torrential sea running between them, and no ferry- 
boats plying, overhead telephone lines all down, under-water cables all 
broken; the machinery of government still ostensibly functioning, but 
like a main-line station with no passengers, a supermarket with no 
customers. 

The focus of all attention in Simla, political, social, administrative, 
was, of course, Viceregal Lodge; whether ladies aspiring to appear, 
suitably arrayed, in the highest circles, or their spouses with an eye on 
promotion and the increments and honours that went therewith, or just 
anyone, white, brown or mottled, buzzing round the honey-pot of 
authority in the vague expectation that something sweet-tasting might 
be sucked out of it Those embossed invitation cards - Their Excellencies 
request the pleasure . . .-how precious and sought-after they were! 
Their Excellencies never, or only rarely, in very exceptional circum- 
stances, requested in vain. My turn came round. Encased in starched 
shirt and tails, conscious of lines being crossed at the back of my white 
waistcoat, embossed card in hand, I sat in a rickshaw propelled by four 
coolies trotting along like ponies, two in front and two behind; knowing, 
but trying to forget, that Simla rickshaw coolies all die young from en- 
larged hearts through trotting up and down hills at so high an altitude. 

Anyway, there was no alternative; only the Viceroy and the Com- 
mander-in-Chief being allowed motor-cars in Simla. Who, in his senses, 
would care to arrive on foot, hot and dishevelled, for a dinner party at 
Viceregal Lodge? Certainly not I. So, on we trot, past the turbaned, 
bearded sentries, who spring to attention, and up to the main entrance 
where ADC’s are waiting to speed guests on their way to join the 



The Iron Gates 317 

glittering throng. Unglittering myself, without one single tiny medal, 
I fall into conversation with a resplendent Guards officer named 
Codrington, lightly ginger, with pale eyes, who has been trying, he tells 
me, to upgrade the military music provided by adding a touch of Purcel 
and summer a’coming in to the usual Colonel Bogey-ish repertoire. 

The ADC’s shepherded us into some sort of a line, the band struck 
up the National Anthem, two folding doors were ceremonially opened, 
and in came Their Excellencies, who proceeded slowly down the line to 
greet their guests; the names of any doubtful ones whispered into their 
ears, the ladies courtseying, and the gentlemen bowing low. When my 
turn came, I, too, bowed: Tve heard of you/ the Viceroy said, a touch 
of grimness in his voice. It seemed better than nothing. The Vicereine, 
a large, zestful lady with a red sash, wore a permanent unvarying smile 
which beamed upon one and all. He, on the other hand, was slight and 
frail, like a Max Beerbohm drawing, and studded with gleaming stars 
and orders. I examined him closely. After all, at any rate in theory, he 
was one of the world’s great potentates; absolute ruler over more souls 
than any other ruler extant. Even so, he gave out no emanation of 
authority, but might have been, at a casual glance, a chairman of some 
board or other, or a City Alderman, or, for that matter, what he really 
was - an amiable back-bench Conservative MP. Even a Maharajah in 
his train, with a great jewel in his turban and a self-indulgent face, 
seemed more like a ruler than the Viceroy. Should I have felt the same 
if it had been Curzon instead of Willingdon? I asked myself. Probably 
not. But then Curzon’s power over his hundreds of millions of subjects 
was, to some extent at any rate, real, whereas Willingdon’s existed only 
to the degree that he didn’t exercise it. This office, the Viceroyalty, the 
only one under the British Crown carrying with it the trappings and 
pomp and circumstance of a Sultan or Caliph, aspired after by so many 
politicians, drab little men in black coats and spongebag trousers who 
saw themselves in those splendid robes, seated on a silver throne and 
presiding over Durbars of inconceivable magnificence - its glory had 
already departed. 

We dined to music which bore little trace of Captain Codrington’s 
efforts to amend it, and afterwards waited to be summoned to Their 
Excellencies. I was guided first to Lady Willingdon, where she sat 
giving out waves of energy and enthusiasm. She wished, she said, that 
they were staying on for another ten years. I put on an expression, I 
hoped convincingly, of one who wished likewise. What about our suc- 
cessors? she asked. I murmured ‘Linlithgow,’ with as much journalistic 



3 1 8 The Infernal Grove 

knowingness as I could summon up. ‘He’s terribly pompous,’ she said. 
I agreed heartily. ‘Look at John Anderson,’ she went on, ‘and how he’s 
changed!’ How? I wanted to ask, but at this point an ADC hove in 
sight to take me away and over to the Viceroy. It was somewhat unusual, 
I was given to understand afterwards, to be moved straight from her 
square to his, and was duly flattered. 

Willingdon, when I got to him, looked tremendously like an old beau 
in a Restoration comedy; I half expected him to take a pinch of snuff 
and flick his handkerchief. People were inclined to think that India was 
difficult to govern, he began, but he’d found it almost ridiculously easy. 
You just had to be nice to these fellers, and they responded. Such, at 
least, had been his experience. He doubted if there was in all the world 
an easier country to govern than India. In the circumstances, it was a 
pretty extraordinary statement, and, while I was digesting it, he went on 
to say that he believed in Providence; otherwise, he’d never have been 
able to carry on. Then, looking sidelong at me, he added: ‘You won’t 
believe in that, I suppose.’ Before I could elucidate my own attitude to 
Providence, my replacement had arrived; a man with a goatee beard who 
had some sort of connection with the Round Table and South Africa. 
I saw the Viceroy moistening his lips from a glass of water in preparation 
for another conversation. 

Walking back to the Cecil Hotel where I was staying - 1 was happy 
not to need a rickshaw for the return journey - 1 kept going over in my 
mind what the Viceroy had said about India being so easy a country to 
govern, and those fellers (meaning, presumably, Indian politicians of 
one sort and another, from Gandhi and Nehru to the latest batch of 
Indian knights and CIE’s) being so responsive to niceness. It was one 
of the little vignettes which mark out history like a surveyor’s white 
posts; the last Viceroy but three, up there in the Raj’s mountain re- 
treat, his guests around him, his ADC’s at his elbow, his rumbustious 
lady within hailing distance, the band playing Elgar by way of a com- 
promise between Captain Codrington and Colonel Bogey -this grey 
fragile-looking old gentleman telling me how easy he had found govern- 
ing India and managing those fellers within so short a time of the 
Raj’s total collapse. 

I had several other meetings with Willingdon in his office in the way 
of duty as the Statesman * s man in Simla. His amiability, and a certain 
shrewdness acquired through the years as a politician and proconsul 
(he had been Governor-General in Canada in addition to his service in 
India), made him easy to talk to, but he never really said anything about 



The Iron Gates 319 

anything. As Viceroy, he was content just to coast along. Indeed, there 
was nothing much else he could do. The only matter that cropped up 
about which he seemed to have strong feelings was the reputation of his 
predecessor, Lord Irwin — later Lord Halifax, and Chamberlain s 
Foreign Secretary. It annoyed him to think that, though Irwin’s 
Viceroyalty had been full of trouble and violence, including the in- 
cursion of Afridi tribesmen, he passed in the public estimation for being 
the better man of the two of them. His method of denigrating Irwin was 
to begin by flattering him; he was, he said, a very great and high- 
minded gentleman (something, incidentally, that no one was likely to say 
of Willingdon, however admirable he might otherwise seem), but he had 
not found India, as Willingdon had, an easy country to govern; nor had 
he managed to get along with those fellers despite his sanctimonious 
exchanges with Gandhi. Why, then, such a high reputation? 

To comfort him I developed on the spur of the moment a theory, 
often propounded subsequently - that to succeed pre-eminently in 
English public life it is necessary to conform either to the popular image 
of a bookie or of a clergyman; Churchill being a perfect example of the 
former, Halifax of the latter. Willingdon liked this notion, and we 
successfully applied it to a number of other public personages. As a 
matter of fact, I felt very much on Willingdon’s side in his attitude to his 
predecessor; sentimentally virtuous people like Lord Halifax and 
Mrs Roosevelt do far more harm in the world than recognisable villains. 
Solzhenitsyn has provided the perfect parable on this theme with his 
description of Mrs Roosevelt’s conducted visit to a labour camp where 
he was doing time. The estimable lady, who spawned the moral platitudes 
of the contemporary liberal wisdom as effortlessly and plenteously as the 
most prolific salmon, was easily persuaded that the camp in question 
was a humanely conducted institution for curing the criminally inclined. 
A truly wicked woman would have been ashamed to be so callous and so 
gullible. 

The only member of Willingdon’s Government I got to know well 
and like was P. J. Grigg, the Finance Member. We began - as almost 
everyone did in dealing with P.J. - with a ferocious row; in my case, 
over some articles I had written in the Statesman about India’s fiscal 
policy, which, I argued at some length, was subordinated to British 
interests. After a slanging match between the two of us, we became 
friends, and remained so to the end of P.J.’s life. He was a strange, 
irascible, infinitely kind man, who from humble origins had risen to be 
a senior civil servant, and then was sent to India, where he had political 



320 The Infernal Grove 

responsibilities for which he had little aptitude, and administrative ones 
at which he was superbly competent. Life induced in him a more or less 
permanent condition or irritation, which he vented on anyone who 
happened to be around; especially his wife Gertrude, a stately lady, 
daughter of a bishop, who loved him dearly and proudly, and accepted 
his strictures with equanimity, while quietly working away at translating 
books into braille. She looked rather like a pantomime dame herself, and 
together they put up a wonderful comic turn. To P.J.’s great credit, the 
various prizes he had worked for -his professional advancement, his 
KGB, his familiarity with the great (he had been private secretary to 
both Lloyd George and Churchill), his easy financial circumstances, his 
directorships, his wine cellar and library and other such amenities - 
failed to give him any lasting satisfaction. To the end of his days he was 
looking for something else, but never, I think, found it; anyway, dying 
still irascible. Thinking of him - and of myself, for that matter - 1 draw 
comfort from Pascal’s saying that to look for God is to find Him. In the 
Indian Legislature P J. sat on the Government front bench in the style 
of the masters he had served in Whitehall; red-faced, feet up, osten- 
tatiously sleeping through vituperative sessions - a second-string tour- 
ing company performance. 

After a spurt with the articles on fiscal policy which had so enraged 
P.J., I soon lost interest in the Simla scene, of which I was supposed to 
provide the Statesman with a day-by-day report. My communications 
to the Calcutta office grew ever shorter and more occasional, as did my 
responses to queries from London, where I had one or two stringer 
connections. One, I remember, asked for the reactions of Indians to the 
announcement of Linlithgow’s appointment as Viceroy. It reminded 
me of the time in Moscow when I was asked for the reactions of the 
Soviet toiling masses to the lavish scale of entertaining in USSR 
embassies, and I had replied that the only ascertainable reaction was a 
desire to get near the buffet. In the case of Indian reactions to Linlith- 
gow’s appointment, there just weren’t any; not even imaginable ones. 
So there was nothing for it but to fall back on quotations from the 
English-language Press, culling a few sentences where I could - ‘If the 
New Viceroy will but see the need to speed up drastically progress to 
Indian self-government, then Indians, we are sure, will take him to their 
hearts . . .’ Somehow, the idea of Indians taking Linlithgow to their 
hearts appealed to me. 

My detachment from news-gatherings in Simla became total when I 
got to know Amrita Sher-Gil, an artist now generally considered to be 



The Iron Gates 321 

the outstanding one of modem India. There is a room in the Delhi Art 
Gallery dedicated to her work, including a portrait she did of me. It was 
one of those obsessive relationships which for a while occupy one’s 
whole being; then come to an end as suddenly as they begin. In die con- 
text of a life, a sort of play within a play. Her father was a Sikh noble- 
man, Sardar Umrai Singh, and her mother a red-haired solidly built 
Hungarian lady named Antoinette. I have no idea how they met, but 
their union gave an impression of being discrodant; he, Tolstoyan in his 
views and ways, ascetic, aloof, scholarly, and she a somewhat earthy 
person, who, when she played the piano - which she did a lot - seemed 
to be tearing greedily at the notes with her short, stubby fingers, the 
many rings on them knocking against the keyboard. Usually she wore 
European clothes - what used to be called gowns rather than dresses, 
with flounces and frills and billowing skirts; but when she appeared in a 
sari, as shd sometimes did, she looked ungainly, her bare feet splaying 
out like trotters. They lived in a house at Summer Hill, just outside 
Simla, where I was a constant visitor. Amrita had her studio there, and 
I sat for her; or rather lolled on a sofa, sometimes reading, or just watch- 
ing with fascination the animal intensity of her concentration, making 
her short of breath, with beads of sweat appearing on the faint mous- 
tache on her upper lip. It was this animality which she somehow trans- 
ferred to the colours as she mixed them and splashed them on her 
canvas. 

She was ten years younger than I, bom in Budapest in 1913, and 
when she was seven came with her parents and her younger sister, 
Indira, to Simla, where she went to school. Then she studied art in 
Paris. When she spoke English, it had the Anglo-Indian lilt (called 
chee-chee in the days of the Raj); when French, it came straight from 
the Ecole des Beaux Arts. She habitually wore richly coloured saris with 
heavy gold or silver edging; and her face was Indian in its perfect 
symmetry, which she accentuated by painting - quite gratuitously, of 
course - a caste-mark in the centre of her forehead. The expression, 
however, lacked the characteristic softness of an Indian woman’s face; 
Heavily made up, the lips loaded with red as her person was with 
jewellery - ear-rings, bangles, bracelets, necklaces, like gilded manacles 
- it was hard, self-contained, at times arrogant 

Even more than in my four friends in Calcutta, I sensed in her an 
inner conflict, which in her case was manifested in the disharmony of her 
parents. Her father, though smaller, more shrivelled, than Tolstoy, 
actually looked like him, with a similar beard and loose belted shirt, and 



322 The Infernal Grove 

displaying the same sort of petulance when assailed by distaste for what 
he considered to be the unduly luxurious manner in which the house- 
hold was conducted. If, say, he were offered a pastry at tea-time, he 
would reject it with positive disgust, muttering: ‘No, I won’t take, I 
won’t takel’ Mme Sher-Gil’s whole style of living - bourgeois Viennese 
in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, transplanted to Simla, of 
all unlikely places - was displeasing to him. If the Sardar's displeasure 
became too marked, she resorted to her piano, getting going on a 
Richard Strauss or Liszt number; pounding away at the keyboard, head 
nodding, foot furiously pressing and releasing the pedal. He would then 
withdraw to the roof, where he spent much of his time engaged in 
abstruse calculations, and, by night, assiduously studying the stars 
through a telescope. I occasionally joined him there. Up on the roof by 
night, he was a wild-looking figure; hair and beard dishevelled in the 
wind, peering intently through his telescope as though he hoped there- 
by to get nearer to the stars and their celestial music, and further away 
from the Hungarian Dances whose strains reached him even there. 

A similar disharmony was apparent in Amrita’s painting. Her sub- 
jects were nearly all Indian; many of them peasants working in the fields, 
executed in the destructive twentieth-century style of the west - a mix- 
ture of something faint and dying and rather beautiful, and something 
furiously disintegrating. Rosewater and raw spirit. In the former mood, 
she sometimes seemed infinitely sad; in the latter, self-assertive, morally 
vacuous, even rather vulgar. Despite all the time I passed in her com- 
pany, and our ostensible intimacy, I never felt that I got to know her. 
Or was it that there was really no one to know? In any case, she had 
built a wall between herself and the world, behind which she lurked, 
brooding on some secret of her own, or perhaps despairing; her 
sensuality being just fire signals that she sent up from her solitude to 
indicate where she was to any passing stranger. She often dined with 
me at the Cecil Hotel, where her appearance in the dining-room always 
created a marked impression. This I liked. In relations between the 
sexes, there is a strong element of exhibitionism. The pleasure of her 
company -and also at times the fatigue -lay in her vivid, forceful, 
direct reactions to life; the moral equivalent of her taste for steaks that 
were almost raw, and curries that were almost on fire. When she 
achieved, as she sometimes did, some sort of weird amalgam of the 
bearded Tolstoyan star-gazer and the red-haired pianist pounding away 
at her keyboard, she was very appealing. Often we talked on and on, 
with her rickshaw waiting outside the hotel - a smart yellow-painted 



The Iron Gates 323 

one, with four coolies in a sort of livery to match; a characteristic 
Mme Sher-Gil touch. Then, at last, I would see her to it, and, rather 
than separate, walk beside it for a mile or so, still going on talking 
against the padding of the coolies* bare feet. Afterwards, walking back 
alone, smelling the pine trees and breathing in the cold mountain air. 

As I had more or less severed all communication with the Statesman, 
and never went to any press-conferences or put in an appearance at any 
of the Government Departments, my position in Simla became rather 
ridiculous. Salvation came in the shape of a telegram out of the blue 
from Percy Cudlipp, editor of the Evening Standard , offering me a job 
on the Londoner’s Diary at twenty pounds a week. I at once wired off 
accepting the offer, sent a letter of resignation to Moore in Calcutta, and 
with great thankfulness let Kitty know that I was coming home. Amnta 
saw me off at Simla Station in the very early morning - a great con- 
cession on her part, she being a late riser. We walked up and down the 
platform until the little mountain train blew its whistle to indicate it was 
starting, when I got in. Through the window she said we*d had some 
beaux moments together, which was true. I waved as long as she was in 
sight, knowing I should never see her again. In 1941, when she was still 
only 27, she died suddenly in Lahore. Then I heard that her mother 
had committed suicide. Somehow, neither Mme Sher-Gil*s suicide nor 
Amrita*s early death surprised me; I had always been aware of an aura 
of tragedy hanging over them. 

Thirty years later, I was in Simla again with Kevin Billington when 
we were filming Twilight of Empire . By an extraordinary coincidence, 
Viceregal Lodge was just then being emptied of its contents - furniture, 
carpets, pictures, all loaded into vans to be taken away. So, in a sense, I 
saw with my own eyes the final dismantling of the Raj. When we came to 
film, little remained in the big reception hall except three silver thrones 
on which the Viceroy, the Vicereine and the Governor of the Punjab used 
to sit on ceremonial occasions. I sat on the Viceroy’s throne, and tried to 
reconstruct the scene there as it had existed, and as I had known it, so 
short a while ago in time, yet already so infinitely remote - the bustling 
throng, the frail Viceroy in his grey frock-coat, the resplendent Indian 
Princes, the bearded Sikhs and sly old Dewans, and officers in all their 
regimental glory. All over now, and almost forgotten; soon to be wholly 
so. In the evening I went for a walk to Summer Hill, and looked for the 
Sher-Gil’s house, but couldn’t find it. It, too, seemed to have dis- 
appeared. 



324 The Infernal Grove 

Back in London, I soon got in the way of going each day to and from the 
Evening Standard office in Shoe Lane, off Fleet Street. I have invariably 
felt about everything I have had to do for a living that I have been doing 
it always, and, equally, that I shall stop doing it tomorrow. Two 
seemingly incompatible states of mind - like free will and determinism - 
which nonetheless, in my experience, easily co-exist. I travelled up each 
morning by tram, from Kentish Town, via Gray’s Inn Road, to Hol- 
born; a form of urban transport that appealed to me, perhaps because 
of childhood memories of the virtues of municipal enterprise, and of 
similar tram rides to the Old Vic for the special matinees of Shakespeare 
productions put on for elementary schoolchildren. 

The Evening Standard , a Beaverbrook newspaper, was produced in a 
single large room, the idea being that thereby the whole operation of 
bringing it out would be integrated and co-operative. Whether this aim 
was realised is doubtful, but at least the arrangement accustomed me to 
working in conditions of noise and disorder. The only person missing 
was the most essential - Beaverbrook himself, who never came to the 
office, but nonetheless managed to maintain from afar his close control 
of how the paper was run, and of everything that went into it. The single 
department which resisted the process of gleickshaltung was the Women’s 
Page, which fought a last-ditch battle to maintain its seclusion, and 
obstinately went on functioning in what looked like a little hut amidst 
the encircling chaos. Inside it, two stem unbending ladies continued to 
deal magisterially with readers* queries about such matters as too large 
pores and the appearance of hair in untoward places. Their resistance 
was finally broken when one night, in their absence, their little hut 
was razed to the ground. Arriving the next morning and finding it 
gone, they had no recourse but to sit among us, which they surlily 
did. 

In our Londoner’s Diary comer, Bruce Lockhart reigned as a quasi- 
independent satrap. Having a direct line to Beaverbrook, he could treat 
with the editor, Percy Cudlipp, more or less as an equal; as well as with 
Captain Wardell, Beaverbrook’s man on the premises. I once heard 
Bruce, on the telephone to Beaverbrook, call him ‘Tich*; but the word 
was pronounced so softly and respectfully that it might have been some 
honorific title like Tour Eminence* or Tour Grace*. In matters of 
sycophancy, as of virtue, it is the spirit, not the letter, that counts. The 
Captain, as we all called Wardell, had an office upstairs, though what his 
precise functions were I never knew. He had a patch over one eye 
and high social connections, and as one of Beaverbrook’s familiars was 



The Iron Gates 325 

treated with considerable awe and respect. His eye, it seemed, had been 
injured in a hunting accident, and in his day paragraphs about hunting 
and related matters were frequent in the Diary. In his upstairs office 
he gave regular luncheon parties, to which I was occasionally invited. 
At them, one would meet such figures as Brendan Bracken, Beverley 
Baxter, Bob Boothby, and other such kulaks of journalism, politics and 
finance. 

Bruce Lockhart himself was a cheerful, amiable Scot, who had been 
the first unofficial British agent in the USSR; an adventurous time 
for him, described in his book Memoirs of a British Agent . In the end, he 
was exchanged for Litvinov; a swap which might be considered, in 
worldly terms, advantageous to the Soviet side, but humanly speaking, 
I should have said we were the gainers. Bruce was on good terms with 
the Soviet Embassy, perhaps as the de facto donor of their Commissar 
for Foreign Affairs, and drolly complained on one occasion that para- 
graphs I put in the paper led to the discontinuance of his annual present 
of caviare. He and Lord Castlerosse were the two wild ones, avecpeur et 
avec reproche , in Beaverbrook’s little court, who brought to it a flavour of 
high living and society gossip; as Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot did 
of Radical thinking and political gossip, enabling Beaverbrook to enjoy 
vicariously the sensation of being a rake and a rebel without jeopardising 
either his social or financial standing. When, as sometimes happened, 
the money-lenders closed in on Bruce and Castlerosse, they turned to 
their master for help. It was accorded with some ostensible grumbling, 
but, I suspect, much inward satisfaction. Beaverbrook felt he was sub- 
sidising their lubricity and general extravagance, in the same sort of way 
that Balzac’s miser, Pere Goriot, delighted in setting up his fashionable 
daughters in luxurious circumstances. Giving money away was a means 
of attaching people to himself ; a kind of Devil’s sacrament - ‘This is my 
money . . .* At Christmas-time his smart lady friends could count on 
receiving a cheque, and Lord Ismay told me that when, in the 1939-45 
war, he joined Churchill’s apparat y the first thing Beaverbrook did was 
to offer him money, which, however, he prudently declined, realising 
instinctively that it would involve a dangerous servitude. Aneurin 
Bevan, too, told me that at one point Beaverbrook wanted to take him 
on to his payroll at a large figure, but, like Ismay, he saw the danger, and 
turned the offer down, contenting himself with drinking champagne at 
Beaverbrook’s table and enjoying the company he met there - a strange 
taste for so fervid and sharp a mind. Money was really the only thing 
Beaverbrook believed in or cared about; it was the source of such power 



326 The Infernal Grove 

as he exercised, both within the organisation of his newspapers and in 
the larger world of politics. It was also the reason that, in the end, des- 
pite the huge circulations he commanded, and his intimacies with the 
leading politicians of his time, his influence was negligible. Money is a 
fragile power base to operate from, and can no more procure lasting 
influence than sensual pleasure can lasting affection. 

Even in absentia , Beaverbrook’s presence hung over the Evening 
Standard office as intensively as C. P. Scott's had over the Guardian 
office in Manchester. It was not just that he telephoned directives to 
particular individuals - though this, of course, happened; in the case, 
for instance, of the ill-starred leader-writer. One would see this un- 
fortunate with the receiver glued to his ear, and a look of anguish on his 
face, desperately trying to grasp and stamp on his mind each word 
Beaverbrook uttered. Even when Cudlipp installed some sort of 
primitive dictaphone, things were not much easier. Out of curiosity, I 
listened to one or two of these recordings, and all one could hear dis- 
tinctly was a raucous Canadian voice saying at regular intervals: ‘You’ve 
gotta say.' When I left the Evening Standard I tried to take a few speci- 
mens away with me; I thought they would be nice to play over at one of 
those gatherings - like the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association, or the 
English-Speaking Union - when Areopagitica is quoted, and our free 
press extolled. Alas, I found that, on Beaverbrook’s orders, they 
had all been destroyed. After all, he was not a fool. More effective than 
such direct interventions was the mood he managed to create in his staff, 
whereby, instinctively or deliberately, they angled everything they wrote 
to please him; echoing what they took as being his thoughts, views and 
prejudices. This applied to correspondents abroad working for Beaver- 
brook newspapers just as much as to the home staff. Once I asked 
Milton Shulman what public he had in mind when he wrote his theatre 
and television criticism for the Evening Standard . He replied with 
singular honesty that he wrote with one little old reader in mind- 
Beaverbrook. 

The essential difference between Scott’s control of the Guardian and 
Beaverbrook’s of his papers was that Scott had views and attitudes which, 
however distasteful, were fairly consistent, and could be cogently 
expounded; whereas Beaverbrook, when you got down to it, really had 
no views at all, but only prejudices, moods, sudden likes and dislikes, 
which his newspapers had to keep abreast of and reflect; in their news 
columns, as in their features and editorials. Overnight, he might reverse 
a previously held position as a result of a conversation, or of something 



The Iron Gates 327 

he had read or heard. Or he might have a row with one of his children, 
and in the heat of it start a campaign for higher death-duties; or fail to 
ingratiate himself with some high-born lady and, to work off his irrita- 
tion, mount a ferocious attack on class distinctions. Equally, if the 
approach proved successful, we might find ourselves adulating the lady 
in question, as being notable for beauty, wit and concern for the com- 
monweal. Working for Scott was like waltzing with some sedate old 
dowager at a mayoral reception in Manchester; for Beaverbrook, like 
taking the floor in a night-club in the early hours of the morning, when 
everyone is more or less drunk. 

Beaverbrook’s affections were as unstable as his views, and he greatly 
enjoyed playing off one of his familiars against another. He might, for 
instance, instruct Bruce Lockart to review adversely a novel by his 
friend Arnold Bennett, and then, when Bennett complained, shake his 
head over the impossibility of controlling his subordinates. One of his 
best coups in this genre - which, I must say, I greatly enjoyed - was to 
punish Rothermere's Daily Mail for having acquired at great expense 
exclusive rights in Dickens’s Life of Christ by publishing Thomas 
Wright’s disclosures about Dickens’s affair with Ellen Teman. His pet 
aversions - for instance, in those days, John Reith and the BBC - were rela- 
tively steady ; it was as much as anyone's job was worth to let a favourable 
word about them get into the paper. In other cases, his feelings fluctuated, 
and one had to make sure, before going into print, how the barometer 
stood. Happily for me, I was not considered of sufficient standing or 
reliability to be entrusted with promoting any of his political campaigns, 
and so was spared the humiliating task of trying to make sense of 
intrinsic absurdities like Empire Free Trade. On the Diary we were 
concerned more with personalities than politics, and there are few in 
public life at whom it is not a pleasure to take an occasional swipe. In 
this respect, the job suited me well enough. 

Underneath Beaverbrook’s vagaries and inconsistencies, however, 
one soon came to detect a strain of cunning and self-interest. Thus, our 
policy was to be cheerful and hopeful; everything was going well, 
prosperity reigned, and would steadily expand; the war that everyone 
was talking about and expecting, just wasn’t going to happen. Such a 
view, of course, was good for advertising, and reassuring for Beaver- 
brook himself. He read and believed his own papers, even though they 
were fashioned specifically to convey all his favourite fantasies. When 
they told him there was not going to be a war, he having instructed them 
so to do, he felt reassured, and assumed, I daresay with reason, that 



328 The Infernal Grove 

advertisers would react likewise. The true doom of the Media barons at 
all levels is to believe the Media, thereby infallibly encompassing their 
own ultimate destruction. 

Another strand in the web of fantasy we wove on Beaverbrook’s 
behalf was religiosity. Something of his early Calvinist upbringing 
lingered about him ; he was not quite sure that there might not be such a 
thing as everlasting damnation, and if there should be, then, clearly, he 
would be a likely candidate. An evening with his cronies was liable to 
end with a hymn-singing session, and his book about Christ - The Divine 
Propagandist -is another essay in reassurance; this time against hell 
fire rather than another war. Jesus, he concludes, was a cheerful, sociable 
soul, who, as the parable of the talents shows, believed in investing money 
shrewdly and making a killing on the Stock Exchange when a good 
opportunity presented itself. Any suggestion that he was inclined to take 
a poor view of man’s earthly circumstances represents, Beaverbrook in- 
sists, a distortion of his teaching; as does the literal interpretation of 
those parts of the Sermon on the Mount which deal with non-resistance, 
the suffering of persecution gladly, and the doctrine of turning the other 
cheek. An antidote to such error was provided in the Evening Standard 
by Dean Inge’s weekly articles which, Beaverbrook considered, took a 
decently realistic view of the Christian message, while upholding some- 
thing he clung to with particular tenacity - the sure hope of immortality. 
One of Inge’s articles on this theme was advertised on our vans with the 
bill: IS THERE AN AFTER-LIFE? SEE TOMORROW’S EVENING 

standard. Beaverbrook, as it seemed to me, was a perfect example of 
the validity of the Faust myth; he really did believe he had sold his soul 
to the Devil, and was terrified of having to settle the account. 

The basic policy laid down for us was to write always on the assump- 
tion that our readers were a notch or two higher in the social scale than 
was actually the case. In the columns of the Londoner’s Diary, they had 
all been to public schools, played rugby football rather than soccer, 
changed for dinner, went to the Private Showing of the Royal Academy 
and to gala occasions at Covent Garden, read the novels of Evelyn 
Waugh, and liked Shaw’s plays for serious theatre-going and Noel 
Coward’s for relaxation, attended the better-known race-meetings, 
especially Ascot, ski-ed, motored, and knew their way about the Riviera 
and the Rue de Rivoli. They might even hunt - but this was a shade 
beyond our reach, and only included out of deference to the Captain. 
Such a picture of themselves was comforting as they commuted between 
Purley and London Bridge, and alleviated the tedium of trimming their 



The Iron Gates 329 

privet hedges on Saturday afternoons, or holidaying en famiUe at the 
seaside in the summer. 

Working on the Diary, we divided the various portfolios between us. 
Thus, Bruce Lockhart handled diplomats and diplomacy - ambas- 
sadorial postings, Excellencies turning up in London from distant places 
looking bronzed and fit, anecdotes about diplomatic bags and linguistic 
misunderstandings; anything like that. He also had the first bite at the 
Honours* List, when it appeared, speculating on such matters as what 
titles the ennobled were going to take, and what coats-of-arms they 
might be expected to adopt. Here, Garter or one of his underlings at the 
College of Arms was invaluable. Bruce would arrive in the morning 
bursting with what he had heard the evening before at this or that party 

- so-and-so tipped for such a job - and had a quick eye for pointers in 
the morning papers. As when he spotted in The Times Personal Columns 
that a dog had been lost near Churt. Could it be Lloyd George’s? A few 
telephone calls - we all spent most of our time telephoning - elicited the 
fact that it was, and Bruce, his eyes sparkling, led that day’s Diary with 
the story of how the self-same littler terrier which had once disgraced 
itself by biting the Italian Prime Minister, Sr Orlando, during negotia- 
tions at Rapallo, was now at large in Surrey. 

Politics rested largely in the hands of Randolph Churchill, who, to the 
considerable awe of the rest of us, could telephone almost anyone without 
fear of a rebuff. That you, Bobbity? Duff? Fruity? Bob? Rab? There was 
also, of course, his father, to whom he could always turn, and who con- 
tributed a highly paid weekly article to the Evening Standard ; in those 
days, very much out of things, and, I thought from a fleeting glimpse I had 
of him, showing it. I have always been fascinated to note how indelibly 
worldly success and failure write themselves in a person’s appearance; 
the one keeping the trousers pressed, linen fresh, shaves clean, and the 
other, almost over-night, bagging the trousers, fraying cuffs, leaving 
tufts of hair and dried gobbets of blood on the chin. Randolph still had 
about him some of the glow of his youthful promise, when he was called 

- alas, only by the first Lord Rothermere - England’s young man of 
destiny. In the succeeding years I saw him from time to time, and so was 
able to observe his rogue-elephant course; growing obese and grey and 
feebly thunderous, though never quite losing some quality of, if not 
originality, unexpectedness, which almost amounted to it. Perhaps it was 
fitting that his days should end enmeshed in what was to be an intermin- 
able biography of the father whom he had so assiduously emulated, and 
even copied, and in whose shadow he had been fated always to live. I 



330 The Infernal Grove 

wrote his obituary in The Times - the only one I have ever done, or been 
asked to do. It would have seemed an unlikely eventuality in our Diary 
days. 

The portfolio of cultural affairs was in the hands of Patrick Balfour, 
son of a Scottish judge and peer; a versatile writer who, in the course of 
many assignments, collaborated with the Duke of Windsor, which at one 
point involved their sharing a forlorn Thermos of tea on the steps of 
the Duke’s sometime residence, Fort Belvedere. It was he who attended 
art shows, went to the ballet, knew Beverley Nichols, Somerset Maugham 
and Evelyn Waugh, and even frequented publishers* cocktail parties - 
the equivalent, in gossip-writing terms, of slumming. John Betjeman, the 
film critic when I first joined the paper, helped out with architectural 
and ecclesiastical news, especially clerical appointments. There was also 
a strange, red-faced, rather tragic figure with dyed black hair named 
Philip Page who had been in his day a well-known theatre critic, but 
now just sat around contributing occasional paragraphs to the Diary. His 
harmless vanity was to have known everyone intimately, but it was 
noticeable that, whenever this knowledge was put to the test of providing 
a paragraph, it needed heavy reinforcement from the cuttings - those 
envelopes, bulky or scanty according to the estimated eminence of the 
subject, containing whatever fragments of information had appeared 
about them in the press. Footprints of a kind in the sands of time. When 
the subject died, the word ‘dead* was scrawled across the envelope; a 
necessary precaution, in Page’s case particularly; he was all too prone to 
turn in a paragraph about having run into Beerbohm Tree, or Lily 
Langtry looking prettier than ever, at the Trocadero. 

Page had one of those rich, port wine voices you seldom hear nowa- 
days, and in all weathers wore a bowler hat and an overcoat with a velvet 
collar. He alone of us all believed in what we were doing; seeing each 
Diary paragraph as a sacrificial offering laid on the altar of social recti- 
tude. When King George V died, I found him in tears, staring at a 
half-crown piece, which, as he said, was the man’s picture. It was a 
testing time for us all, instructions having been handed down by the 
Captain from Beaverbrook that until the royal funeral had taken place 
every paragraph in the Diary must deal with the nation’s bereavement. 
This meant, in all, some 120 paragraphs. I remember wrestling with a 
couple myself about a tapestry that Queen Mary had been working on at 
the time of her husband’s death. It was heavy going - for me, I mean; 
though doubtless for her, too. 

Literary paragraphs were turned in by Howard Spring, the book 



The Iron Gates 33 1 

critic; a former Guardian star-reporter, with an adoring wife whose 
praises of him, Neville Cardus once remarked, would have been exces- 
sive even if he had been Shakespeare. In the course of reporting an 
Empire Free Trade meeting in Manchester for the Guardian , Spring 
referred to Beaverbrook as a pedlar of nightmares. Crozier, ever timid, 
thought this rather strong, and altered ‘nightmares* to 'dreams*, 
thereby procuring Spring an immediate offer of a job on the Evening 
Standard at a greatly increased salary, which he accepted. Later, as a 
successful popular novelist, he became a pedlar of dreams on his own 
account. 

The real pillar of the Diary, and, to me, far the most sympathetic 
person connected with it, was Leslie Marsh, who, in effect, edited it. He 
was a strange, sad, infinitely lovable man who had drifted into journalism, 
like so many others, because it seemed to be vaguely connected with 
writing, and, at the same time, offered regular wages. Like an aspiring 
actress who joins the Bluebell Girls. At one point he tried to break away, 
and turned to hedging and ditching for a living, but family responsi- 
bilities brought him back to Shoe Lane. His distaste for the Diary was 
very great. If one asked him whether he had enough paragraphs, he 
would never admit to more than: ‘I can fill*; if one sought his help 
in finding a subject, more often than not his only response would be: 
‘Have you looked at the stiffs?* I used to say that he was like Augustus 
Moddle in Martin Chuzzlewit , who spoke for all the poetically disap- 
pointed when he wrote to Miss Pecksniff: ‘I love another. She is 
Another’s. Everything appears to be somebody else*8.* When I went to 
Punchy the first thing I did was to ask Leslie to join the staff, which, to 
my great joy, he did. When I left, he was still there; the only truly 
useful contribution I made to the magazine’s well-being. 

My own role in the production of the Diary, as the latest arrival, 
was to deal with unconsidered trifles like sudden deaths, a book that 
needed to be hurriedly gutted for some morsel of gossip, or the appoint- 
ment of a new headmaster at one of the lesser public schools like Lancing 
or Repton. Also, I was considered as something of an expert on the 
Labour Party alternative Establishment that was taking shape, and whose 
gossip potentialities were beginning to be apparent. Kitty’s family - 
Stafford Cripps, the Webbs, the Booths, Lord Parmoor-were an 
important element in this. Windsor, Eton and King’s contributed Dr 
Dalton; Winchester’s offering - Crossman, Gaitskell, Jay - were already 
in the pipe-line. At the London School of Economics they were gathering 
for the harvest; from the high-tables and senior common rooms the 



332 The Infernal Grove 

word was passed down that Labour could wear a mortar-board as well as 
a cap. Nor was the Church behind-hand, with Archbishop Temple 
ready to add an eight-hour day and public ownership of the means of 
production to the other Beatitudes, and his Dean in Canterbury, 
Dr Hewlett Johnson, already preaching in the Cathedral that Stalin was 
busily engaged in building the Kingdom of Christ. The Services and 
the Law likewise offered their quota, and as for literature - with Shaw, 
Wells, Bertrand Russell and a large Bloomsbury contingent to the fore, 
why should lesser pens hold back? Well might an old-timer like George 
Lansbury rub his eyes over so gilt-edged a recruitment, but from a gossip- 
writer’s point of view, it was gravy. 

My political prognostications were less fortunate. For instance, I 
remember writing a paragraph when Major Attlee (as he was then always 
called) was elected leader of the Labour Parliamentary party, to the 
effect that the appointment must be considered purely a stop-gap 
arrangement. So obscure and light-weight a figure, I contended, would 
never make an effective leader of the Opposition, let alone a Prime 
Minister. I thought of this when I happened to run into him in the 
lavatory of the Reform Club shortly before he died. He was on his way 
to some sort of banquet, in full evening dress, every inch an earl, his 
tiny frame borne down by the weight of hardware upon it, his eyes 
glazed, his face skull-like ; but indubitably no stop-gap. Our paths vaguely 
crossed in the sense that we had the same lecture agent in America - 
the redoubtable Mr Colston Leigh, and were liable to pass one another 
like ships in the night at Cincinnati, Ohio, or Denver, Colorado. His 
form, I was told, was splendid except for his propensity to fall asleep; 
the local worthy collecting him at his hotel was quite likely to find the 
Earl tucked up and fast asleep in bed, and even when delivered onto 
the platform he sometimes dropped off during the chairman’s intro- 
ductory remarks. Once awakened, however, he would advance to the 
podium, and deliver a flawless, if somewhat abbreviated, address on the 
ardours and practice of government. 

Our hours on the Diary were short. We were expected to arrive round 
about ten o’clock; the Diary went to press at half past twelve, and in 
those days was seldom changed between the afternoon editions. With 
so many of us working on it, two, or at most three, paragraphs was our 
daily stint. Quite often one made no contribution at all. Every Friday, at 
the accountant’s office on the ground floor, we collected our pay in 
cash, mine being four white, crinkly five-pound notes. It was, on any 
showing, good money for very little work. In theory, it is true, we were 



The Iron Gates 333 

expected to spend our afternoons and evenings roaming the town, 
making contacts, picking up useful information, attending social occa- 
sions - cocktail parties, dinner parties, receptions, first nights, even hunt 
balls. Randolph, of course, was in great demand among hostesses, and 
Patrick Balfour had his own special milieu where paragraph-fodder was 
plentiful; but I personally never sallied forth or attended anything on 
the Diary’s behalf. Appearing in it was considered in those days very 
good publicity, and all sorts of people, from debutantes to authors and 
Intelligence agents (in the last category, one who used to bring two 
mastiffs with him when he visited the office) were after us in the hope of 
planting something, or, at any rate, just getting a mention. 

The easier course, from my point of view, was to rely on the cuttings 
and my own inventiveness. I found that no objections were ever raised 
so long as what appeared in the Diary ministered to the subject’s self- 
esteem; not even to purported quotations given in direct speech. Dr 
Johnson had the same experience when he was producing reports of 
parliamentary debates without ever going near the Houses of Parliament. 
Indeed, he gave the job up when he discovered that the fictitious speeches 
he attributed to Noble Lords and Honourable Members were being taken 
as true. Journalism has moved a long way since his time, and I must say 
it never occurred to me to feel any qualms when my imaginary conver- 
sations passed unchallenged. At times there might be carping over 
trivialities; as when, as a matter of routine, I said of a newly ennobled 
Scottish peer that his grandfather had been a poor crofter, and he wrote 
in to deny that this was so. Honour was satisfied when I made the 
necessary correction by stating in a subsequent paragraph that his grand- 
father had been a rich crofter. On another occasion I chanced my arm 
by remarking of an up-and-coming politician that he was very fond of 
music, and never missed a symphony concert if he could help it. 
Afterwards, I heard from someone who knew him that he was tone- 
deaf, but by that time my paragraph had got into the cuttings, and a 
lover of music he will now remain for all time. 

Occasionally, a Beaverbrook-sponsored paragraph would come my 
way, marked with the word ‘must’. One, I remember, consisted of a 
scribbled, garbled quotation about many aspiring but few succeeding, 
which was to be applied to animadverting upon how rarely politicians 
who move over from Westminster to the City make good there. The 
point was clear enough; Beaverbrook had acquired a huge fortune, but 
been a relative failure in politics, and so wanted to read in the Londoner’s 
Diary - a favourite feature - that making money was a more difficult 



334 The Infernal Grove 

pursuit than politics. My own researches, such as they were, failed to 
provide much support for this proposition; and I turned to what was for 
all of us in all circumstances a last resort - Bonar Law, who had made no 
particular mark either as Prime Minister or tycoon, and could therefore 
be said to have tipped the balance either way. What was more important, 
he was highly esteemed by Beaverbrook, who, when Bonar Law was on 
his death bed and worrying over some falling copper shares, is said to 
have bought them in to keep the price up, thereby enabling his friend to 
die in piece. Another ‘must’ paragraph entrusted to me was to point out 
that the bronchial complaint of which Sir James Barrie was reported to 
be dying, was known as ‘old man’s friend’ because it was so painless. 
Again, the reason was clear; Beaverbrook an asthmatic, expected to die of 
a similar complaint, and wanted to be reassured that it made for an easy 
death by reading it in the Diary. Harley Street was unresponsive when 
asked to provide confirmation, but the Diary nevertheless made the 
point, and kept its little old reader happy. 

This well-paid and unexacting servitude to Beaverbrook’s wayward 
fancies and malign purposes was more spiritually burdensome than 
might have been supposed. There was a steady and insiduous process of 
corruption going on all the time, which I could observe working in others, 
and, in moments of candour, in myself. Underneath all the buffoonery, I 
detected a whiff of sulphur; a transposing of values, whereby whatever 
was most base was elevated, and the only acceptable measure of anyone 
and anything was money, the only pursuit worth considering, worldly 
success. My own part in the Beaverbrook circus was, happily for me, 
only a minor and insignificant one. Even so, it became increasingly 
distasteful, and I decided to take a chance, and spend the remaining time 
before the next war began engaged in my own pursuits rather than 
Beaverbrook’s. 

Almost the last two tasks I was given on the Evening Standard might 
have been specially designed to confirm me in taking this decision. The 
first was to provide some copy for a page of advertisements on behalf 
of various charities, the editorial space available being carefully marked 
out to correspond exactly with the amount of advertising space taken. 
Thus, Distressed Gentlefolk might have three lines, the Salvation Army 
five, Dr Bamado’s Homes eight, and so on. The other task was to take 
note of a book called Metropolitan Man by Robert Sinclair without 
distressing our readers by drawing their attention to disagreeable 
data about their urban environment. As the book consisted almost 
entirely of such data, it was a difficult if not impossible, assignment. 



The Iron Gates 335 

When I pointed this out to Percy Cudlipp, he quite agreed, but still 
insisted that the Beaverbrook directive to keep everyone cheerful must 
stand. It seemed time to hand in my notice, which I did, knowing 
I should miss the four five-pound notes on Fridays, but nothing 
else. 

As it happens, I was employed by the Evening Standard again some 
twenty-five years later, when Charles Wintour was editor, to write a 
weekly book article. This arrangement was terminated, and my place 
taken by Michael Foot, when an, I must admit unsympathetic, account 
by me of the Beaverbrook cult in New Brunswick appeared in the 
Canadian magazine Maclean's. This is the only occasion in my life when 
I have been actually fired. In the course of my visit to Fredericton, 
New Brunswick’s capital, I ran into the Captain, who has a suite in the 
Lord Beaverbrook Hotel where I was staying. We spent an evening 
together, in the course of which he described to me how, on Beaver- 
brook’s advice, he had taken over the local newspaper, the Gleaner , 
whose publisher and editor-in-chief he now was. For some reason, 
spread about his room, he had a lot of new camera equipment, including 
a lens, which from time to time he extended, until it reached a truly 
enormous length; then appeared to be squinting at me through it. 
After dinner, we stepped across to take a look at an exhibition of ultra- 
modern art - Beaverbrook’s latest benefaction to Fredericton. The 
Captain, I could see, cared as little for the pictures as I did, but 
he characteristically comforted himself by observing that, if experts 
like Kenneth Clark approved of them and millionaires like Beaver- 
brook bought them, they must be good. It seemed a non sequitur to 
me. 

Strolling about in Fredericton, and surveying all the different intima- 
tions of Beaverbrook’s connection with the place - the bronze statue in 
the centre of the town, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the Beaverbrook 
Birdbath, the Beaverbrook Theatre, the Beaverbrook Reading Room, 
the Lord Beaverbrook Hotel - 1 wondered what would be the outcome 
of this deliberate pre-humous creation of a shrine and a cult. Would it, 
perhaps, be oblivion just the same? - and this not so much because of 
Beaverbrook’s intrinsic insignificance, as the insignificance, as it would 
turn out, of the historical setting in which he had gone to such pains and 
expense to make a place for himself. After buying up all those papers - 
Bonar Law’s, Lloyd George’s, H. G. Wells’s even; after all that suborn- 
ing of people, and faking of the record; after piecing it all so carefully 
together - then to find that, after all, it signified nothing. Deserving, at 



336 The Infernal Grove 

most, one tiny little footnote rather than large tomes - would not that 
be something? 

We found a house in the country at Whatlington, near Battle, which cost 
eight hundred pounds - a sum that we could just manage with the aid of 
a mortgage. It was quite large, and had been unoccupied for some con- 
siderable time. As we discovered after we had moved in, it had quite 
recently been the scene of a rather disagreeable suicide; and this, added 
to the fact that it had once been a village shop, reduced its desirability, 
and so brought down the price. The suicide didn’t trouble us, any more 
than the shop. In fact, as far as the latter was concerned, if it had been 
practicable we might well have opened up business again. Having disposed 
of our house in London, we moved in with our, now, four children - 
our youngest son, Charles, having lately arrived on the scene. It was a 
fairly austere existence; water came from a well which had to be pumped 
by hand, and drinking water from a spring some little distance away. 
Each day I fetched two bucketsful. Bathing was done in a small metal 
bath in front of the kitchen stove; there was no heating apart from fires, 
and, of course, we had no car. The nearest shopping-centre was Battle, 
some two miles away; and we would usually walk or cycle in and out 
My only regular income was five guineas a week for doing a weekly 
column on novels in the Daily Telegraph . A parcel of five would arrive 
on Mondays, and my copy had to be sent off on the following Friday. 
It gave me a distaste for new novels in dust-jackets which I feel to this 
day - for Mr A who can spin a rollicking yam, for Miss B who so subtly 
explores the relationship between a housemaster’s wife and one of the 
prefects, Mr C who writes with a fine zestful bawdiness reminiscent of 
Tom Jones. I used to put off opening the parcel when it came as long as I 
dared, and even then it took me quite a time before I could nerve myself 
to read even the blurbs - as far as I got in some cases, I regret to say; 
but then I would comfort myself by remembering Dr Johnson’s saying 
about the novels of Congreve, that he would sooner praise them than 
read them. Gerald Gould, who had been in the business much longer 
than I, had reached the point that his weekly quota of volumes used to 
be passed to him through a hatch; after which he could be heard groan- 
ing and beating his head against the wall. Other odd jobs turned up. For 
instance, I ghosted part of the translation of Caulaincourt’s Memoirs 
at thirty shillings a thousand words, and contributed two items, at 
fifteen guineas each, to a book of Fifty Famous Crimes given away by 
the Daily Herald to boost circulation. My subjects were a French 



The Iron Gates 337 

maniac who murdered his entire family for the insurance money, and a 
sordid affair of poisoning in Penge. Kingsmill, who also contributed two 
items, with singular obstinacy tried to get hold of a copy of the book, but 
was finally defeated, even though he tracked down a barge loaded with 
them on its way to Manchester. 

I also did quite a lot of work for Lady Rhondda’s Time & Tide ; a 
feminist organ, largely staffed and written by women. Lady Rhondda, 
plump and curly, was the daughter of a coal magnate who had been 
Food-Controller in the 1914-18 war. She and her father were on the 
Lusitania when it was torpedoed in 1915, and she wrote a very good 
description of the adventure. It appears that she found herself in the 
water holding onto a spar, at the other end of which there was a man 
likewise holding on. She says that she and this man looked at one another, 
whereupon he unaccountably disappeared. Somehow, I understood 
why; working for Time S? Tide was rather like holding onto a spar with 
Lady Rhondda at the other end. All the same, she was very kind to me, 
and let me write what I liked. I particularly appreciated her literary 
editor and friend, Theodora Bosanquet, who had been Henry James’s 
secretary when he was living in Rye; a salty, hearty lady who wore well- 
cut tweed suits and good shoes with flat heels. She and Lady Rhondda 
shared a house in Surrey and a flat overlooking St James’s Park; both 
establishments being so luxurious that they were almost uncomfortable 
-the cream too rich to eat, the peaches too soft and large to bite into, 
the beds too downy to fall asleep in. 

The three years I spent in Whatlington waiting for the war, despite 
financial anxieties and stringencies, were the happiest I had known. 
Our children were beginning to emerge as separate people whom I 
could get to know; Kitty was well content, as she always is when they 
are near, and the ardours of house-keeping are heavy. When we are 
staying in France I have the greatest difficulty in stopping her joining 
the women at the communal village washing place, scrubbing away in 
cold water. The routine of my day was the one that has best suited me 
always; waking up early, working through the morning, walking or 
gardening in the afternoon, working again in the early evening, and 
lolling about and talking until bedtime ; with no contractual job to bother 
about, no fixed obligations to fulfil, no forms to public entertainment to 
sit through - least of all the cinema, about which I have always nourished 
a secret distaste and dread, today amply justified. Above all, the scene I 
looked out on as I worked was the one I most love - the English country- 
side. 



338 The Infernal Grove 

The happiness of this time was enormously enhanced by my friend- 
ship with Hugh Kingsmill, who lived nearby in Hastings with his wife 
Dorothy and their three children. Most weeks we met two or three 
times, either in Hastings or Whatlington, and often had long conversa- 
tions on the telephone. It is impossible for me to convey the delight his 
companionship gave me, or what I owe to him for the enormous enhance- 
ment of living I derived from the stimulation of his mind and imagina- 
tion. There is scarcely a book I care about which is not, as I turn over its 
pages, evocative of him, to the point that even now, a quarter of a 
century since his death, I positively hear his voice commenting on it, 
and feel, welling up in me, the wonderful laughter that was never far 
out of reach, whatever the matter under consideration might be. For 
someone like myself, among the walking-wounded from the ideological 
conflicts of the age, he was the perfect physician, simply because he was 
himself totally uninvolved in them. In some mysterious way, he managed 
to remain uncontaminated and unbrainwashed in an age that specialised 
in both processes. When, under financial stress - a chronic condition 
with him - he took on doing a book about D. H. Lawrence, he used to 
read aloud to me with a kind of wonder dialogue from Lawrence’s 
novels (for instance, the exchange between Mellors and Lady Chat- 
terley’s father, Sir Malcolm Reid, the Royal Academician - ‘Sir Malcolm 
gave a little squirting laugh, and became Scotch and lewd ... I “How 
was the going, eh? Good, my boy, what? . . . My daughter, chip off the 
old block, what? . . . You warmed her up, oh, you warmed her up, I can 
see that. ... A gamekeeper, eh, my boy! Bloody good poacher, if you 
ask me. Ha-ha 1” ’), as though asking: is it conceivable that this should 
be regarded as human speech arising out of a human relationship? 
It was very refreshing and very funny. 

Similarly, he never for one second entertained any hope or expecta- 
tion that the various political prospectuses, from Left to Right, for 
making an earthly paradise, were realisable, or conducive to any lasting 
good for mankind. All such expectations he dismissed as Dawnism; 
and no one has ever stated more clearly than he the fallacy of the collec- 
tive remedies for our ills that Dawnists so ardently recommend, 
when he wrote in his Introduction to The Poisoned Crown : ‘What is 
divine in man is elusive and impalpable, and he is easily tempted to 
embody it in a concrete form - a church, a country, a social system, a 
leader - so that he may realise it with less effort and serve it with more 
profit Yet the attempt to externalise the kingdom of heaven in a temporal 
shape must end in disaster. It cannot be created by charters or constitu- 



The Iron Gates 339 

tions nor established by arms. Those who seek for it alone will reach 
it together, and those who seek it in company will perish by themselves.’ 
Such an attitude struck Orwell, with his mania for categories, as Neo- 
Toryism; and in his ‘Notes on Nationalism’ he worked out a Neo- 
Tory apparat which included, as well as Kingsmill, Wyndham Lewis, 
T. S. Eliot, Evelyn Waugh and myself. After the war, I brought 
Kingsmill and Orwell together, and they got on quite well. Recalling 
the meeting, Kingsmill said that Orwell reminded him of a gate swing- 
ing on a rusty hinge. I saw what he meant. 

Either I would bicycle into Hastings to see Kingsmill, or he would 
take the bus to Battle, and I would set out to meet him along the road 
from Battle to Whatlington, delighted when I first caught a glimpse of 
his solid figure in the distance and heard his shouted greetings: ‘Hullo 1 
old man! Hullo I’ He walked with a rolling gait, rather like a sailor’s; 
always hatless, his head exceptionally large, his already grey hair (he was 
fourteen years older than I was), sparse and dishevelled, his complex- 
ion ruddy. Even when he was full of troubles - as was all too often the 
case - he invariably gave an impression of immense cheerfulness. All 
his complaints were addressed to the phenomenal world, which he saw 
as only the shadow of another greater reality. ‘Poor old mankind,’ I 
would sometimes hear him mutter, as he might affectionately about 
some friend who had run into a lamp-post or fallen down a man-hole. 
Even his money difficulties, pressing though they were, came into the 
category of the phenomenal world; and when there was no post, as on a 
Sunday or Bank Holiday, to bring him bills or solicitor’s letters, ceased 
to worry him. It was only a surface worry, though a persistent one. 
He had the foolish habit, based on his incorrigible hopefulness, of 
sending post-dated cheques in settlement of bills, and was very amused 
when the recipient of one of these wrote back asking for ‘something 
liquid’. Another time, we noticed, in a grocer’s shop in Hastings that 
the ham was recommended as being ‘mild and cured’. It was, Kingsmill 
said, the condition we should all aspire after. 

Sometimes, when he just had to lay hands on some ready money, he 
would make a foray on London, travelling up grandly from Hastings in 
a first-class carriage with the pass Sir Henry Lunn, his father, still had 
from his tourist-tycoon days. This pass, I may add, was in pretty con- 
stant use one way and another; I was even given an occasional run with 
h myself. Once in London, Kingsmill would survey the possibilities; 
like a general looking over the terrain for an attack on enemy positions. 
He might decide to descend upon some unwary publisher with a proposal 



34 ° The Infernal Grove 

for an anthology; he always had ideas for several floating about in 
his mind, and could knock them off in no time, without recourse to 
libraries, from his well-stocked, retentive memory. Or there was the 
office of the New English Review , edited by his friend Douglas Jerrold, 
whose literary editor Kingsmill then was. There would surely be some 
review copies of books lying about there, which could be glanced over, 
and then disposed of to our friend and benefactor, Thomas Gaston, in 
the Strand. On one heroic occasion, nothing else offering, he made his 
way into Bernard Shaw’s flat in Whitehall Court -he had a faint 
acquaintanceship with him - and said boldly that he needed money. As 
Kingsmill described the scene to me, Shaw was sitting there, bolt up- 
right, and giving an odd impression of being made of cotton-wool. He 
just leant forward stiffly, took out his cheque-book, and gave Kingsmill a 
cheque for ten pounds; as it were, in full and complete settlement of 
his obligations as an affluent author to an impecunious one. Kingsmill 
wished afterwards that he had stood out for fifteen. 

A joint venture we were involved in was to describe a series of literary 
pilgrimages for a short-lived New Yorker - type magazine, Night & Day , 
at the suggestion of Graham Greene, its literary editor. The two I 
remember best were to Paris to see Wordsworth’s great-great-grand- 
daughter, Mme Blanchet, a direct descendent of his illegitimate daughter, 
Caroline, by Annette Vallon; and to Wimpole Street at dawn to com- 
memorate Tennyson’s dawn visit to No 67, where, shortly before Hallam 
died, the two of them had spent a happy time together. Mme Blanchet 
showed us a copy of the Lyrical Ballads sent to Annette by Wordsworth, 
and a number of documents in which Wordsworth’s name occurred - 
for instance, Caroline’s birth and marriage certificates - usually as 
M. Williams of Rydalmount near Kendal. As usual, the legend proved to 
be the exact antithesis of the truth; far from Annette being a revolu- 
tionary influence against which Wordsworth turned when he became 
respectable and Poet Laureate, she was a strong royalist, decorated for 
her services by Louis XVIII after the restoration of the monarchy, and 
greatly concerned to get Caroline respectably married, which she suc- 
ceeded in doing, without, I regret to say, any substantial help from M. 
Williams of Rydalmount. We spent the night before our dawn visit 
to Wimpole Street at a nearby Turkish Bath, talking about Tennyson as 
we sweated on adjoining stone slabs, and then were kneaded, thumped, 
soaped and sluiced under the masseur’s hands. The scene in Wimpole 
Street, when we got there, all too exactly fitted the lines from In Memoriam 
that Kingsmill quoted: 



The Iron Gates 341 



He is not here; but far away, 

The noise of life begins again, 

And ghastly thro* the drizzling rain 
On the bald street breaks the blank day. 

I also did a joint piece for Night & Day with Graham Greene - on a 
one-day trip to the Continent. We took off from Margate, where we 
spent some time in Dreamland, being particularly struck with the easy 
way some Air Force cadets picked up girls. 

Once, in the British Museum (a place I always pass with a shudder, 
remembering the hours I have spent in the Library looking up things I 
didn’t want to know) Kingsmill and I overheard a conversation between 
two attendants in blue uniforms. One asked the other where so-and-so - 
obviously another attendant- was; and the first replied; ‘Oh, he’s in 
the Illuminated 1 , meaning, of course, the Illuminated Manuscripts 
Room. Thenceforth, we adopted the term, the Illuminated being the 
world of the imagination, as Wordsworth’s Sunless Land was the world 
of the will. Kingsmill saw the imagination and the will as contending 
impulses, and he liked to recall an inscription on a stone found in 
North Africa: T, the Captain of a Legion of Rome, serving in the desert 
of Libya, have learnt and pondered this truth: “There are in life but 
two things, Love and Power, and no one has both.” ’ The will was the 
dynamo of action and the fuel of lust; the imagination, the way to 
ecstasy and the fount of love. To live in the will was to be imprisoned 
in the dark dungeon of the ego ; the imagination was a window, to look 
out of, and dream of escaping. On the one hand, the men of the will - 
Caesar, Cromwell, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin; on the other, the men of 
the imagination - Jesus, St Francis, Blake, Bonhoeffer and Solzhenitzyn. 
The will belongs to time, the imagination projects time into eternity. 
When Jesus rejected the Devil’s offer of the kingdoms of the earth, he 
turned away from the will; on the Cross he died in the will; the Resur- 
rection was his rebirth in the imagination. 

All this is worked out very beautifully in KingsmilTs too little known 
novel, The Fall , in which his hero, having fallen and cracked his skull, 
comes to in the Illuminated. Thus, this Fall is the opposite of the one in 
Genesis - from the will into the imagination, rather than the other way 
round. A sort of Paradise Regained. The original of Kingsmill’s hero was 
his younger brother, Brian, who also lived in Hastings, and who actually 
did fall from the top of a bus and crack his skull, afterwards giving 
intimations of being in the Illuminated, as well as, from time to time, 
having rather violent spasms. He was a highly eccentric, lovable 



342 The Infernal Grove 

character who lodged with the widow of a naval petty officer named Mrs 
Pitcher, in a house that had formerly belonged to an undertaker and 
monumental mason, and still had tombstones and immortelles lying 
about in the garden. One of the local sights was to see him early every 
morning run down to the sea for a swim, wearing the white shorts of the 
late Petty Officer Pitcher. After his accident he went for a time into the 
local hospital, where Kingsmill and I visited him. In view of his oc- 
casional violent spasms two male nurses sat with him, one on each side 
of his bed. Our arrival was the signal for them to go for a break, and 
Kingsmill and I were left looking at one another rather uneasily across 
Brian’s inert body, which, to our great relief, continued to be inert until 
the male nurses returned. When he came out of hospital, Brian had an 
enormous piece of plaster down the middle of his large bald dome of a 
head where it had been cracked. The effect, when he suddenly took off 
his hat, as he frequently did, especially in saloon bars, was sensational. 

It was at this time, doubtless owing to my companionship with 
Kingsmill, that I began consciously to have mystical experiences, and 
have gone on having them ever since, though sometimes, when I have 
been particularly caught up in egotistic or sensual pursuits, only at very 
long intervals. The first intimation is, quite simply, that time stops, or 
rather one escapes from time. Then all creation is seen in its oneness ; with 
each part of it, from the tiniest insect or blade of grass, to the vastnesses of 
space, with the stars and comets riding through them, visibly related to 
every other part. One sublime harmony, with no place for the discord- 
ancies of hatred and the ego’s shrill demands; the death of death, since 
each note in the harmony exists harmoniously for ever. Peace that is no 
one else’s strife, sufficiency that is no one else’s famine, well-being that 
is no one else’s sickness. Flesh still, mind still, leaving the soul free to 
experience the inconceivable joy of seeing beyond the Iron Gates, to 
where the Creator watches over his creation. 

I can remember three such experiences dyring my time in Whatling- 
ton. On the first occasion I was standing with Kingsmill on the cliffs, 
just outside Hastings, and looking down on the Old Town. It was an 
autumn evening, slightly misty and very still, with a sharp chill in the 
air. From the chimneys below, wreaths of smoke were rising into the sky; 
from each particular chimney, pale smoke, briefly separate, then be- 
coming indistinct, and, finally, lost to view; merging into the grey, 
gathering evening. I was suddenly spellbound, as though this was a 
vision of the Last Day, and the wreaths of smoke, souls, leaving their 
bodies to rise heavenwards and become part of eternity. At the same time, 



The Iron Gates 343 

I felt full of an inexpressible tenderness for these fellow-humans, 
sending up smoke-signals to me from their separate hearths, and an 
inexpressible joy at sharing with them a common destiny. 

The second occasion was at harvest-time, and I was standing on a 
little hill that overlooked our house. It was quite late - about eleven 
o’clock; there was a full moon, and the fields’ abundance filled the air, 
almost visibly, like a mist of fruitfulness. Behind me stood Whatlington 
Church, small and very ancient, making a shadow in the moonlight, 
beyond which there was a massive yew tree, and grave-stones all around 
standing in lush grass. I suppose for a thousand years and more past, 
anyone standing on that little hill would have surveyed the self-same 
scene. I felt myself being incorporated into it, until I no longer existed, 
except as a voice in a choir of innumerable voices, swelling a chorus of 
gratitude for the gift of life, of sharing in its plentitude, of experiencing 
its joys and its afflictions, and treading its ordained path, from the 
womb where I was shaped, to a grave under that yew tree where I 
hoped to lie. Some ancestral memory formed on my lips the words 
Gloria in excelsis Deo . 

The third experience was the most dramatic, and made the deepest 
impression. Kitty was in hospital, on the danger-list, and I was told by 
the surgeon who had operated on her that she had only a very small 
chance of surviving. It was a cruelly anxious time from every point of 
view. Each day, arranging for someone to be with the children, I went 
and sat with her. She was fighting to live, her face pared down to a skull, 
her body a yellow skeleton. Whilst I was there, the doctor came in and 
said that in the night she had lost a lot of blood, and desperately needed 
a blood-transfusion - it was before the days of bottled plasma. Wouldn’t 
I do for a donor? I asked, with a sudden access of hope. My blood-count 
was taken, and to my infinite relief proved satisfactory; and there and 
then, by a procedure that would seem grotesquely primitive nowadays, 
I was joined to her by a tube with a pump in the middle, so that I 
could actually watch the blood being pumped out of me into her. 
‘Don’t stint yourself for blood/ I said to the pathologist, a man named 
Barlow, perhaps partly to be theatrical, but also feeling it. Never in all 
our life together, had I so completely and perfectly and joyously ex- 
perienced love’s fulfilment as on that moment. As my blood, systemati- 
cally, to the pump’s rhythm, pumped into Kitty’s veins, bringing life 
visibly into her face, my blood pouring into her to keep her alive, my 
life reinforcing hers, for the first time I truly understood what love 
meant. 



344 The Infernal Grove 

I tried to put some of the fruit of these experiences into a short book I 
wrote at this time called In A Valley of This Restless Mind, but failed to 
make myself clear, at any rate to reviewers. A gratifying exception was 
Evelyn Waugh, who wrote a long and perceptive review in the Spectator . 
Otherwise, the book was a total failure. My main occupation during the 
period of waiting for the war to begin was writing The Thirties , a 
survey of the decade now coming to an end, commissioned by Hamish 
Hamilton. I managed to acquire The Times for the whole ten-year period, 
and stacked the issues in piles on the floor of my study, so that I was, 
literally, walled in by my material. In addition, I carried in my head 
echoes and memories of the events I had reported or commented on as a 
journalist; while, at the same time, of course, the drama was unfolding 
from day to day - the Spanish Civil War ending, the Abdication, the 
Anschluss, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Chamberlain’s grotesque 
essays in international statesmanship. I wrote the book knowing what 
the end would be; from Ramsay MacDonald’s formation of a National 
Government, everything happened with the inevitability of a play - 
the tragi-comedy of our time. Each character had his part, and came on 
the stage precisely on cue; scene followed scene, moving towards a pre- 
ordained climax, which was to fall exactly pat, some two months before 
the decade’s end. 

The summer of 1939 happened to be an unusually beautiful one, and 
I somehow knew - 1 think we all did - that the passing hours were 
particularly precious; golden hours unlikely to recur. Kingsmill and I 
went on meeting as often as possible. Sometimes, when he came to 
Whatlington, I would walk with him to catch his bus at Battle, and then 
he would decide to walk part of the way back to Whatlington with me. 
So we would perambulate up and down the road, talking and laughing 
into the night, as though the talk and the laughter might soon be running 
out, and we must grab them while we might. Often Hesketh Pearson, a 
close friend of Kingsmill who became a friend of mine, was with us on 
these occasions. 

When news came of the conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, I knew, 
of course, that the waiting was over. In a way, I had been expecting 
such a development; never losing an opportunity to say that Bolshevism 
and National Socialism were the same thing, except that one was a 
Slav version and the other Teutonic. Why should they not come together, 
then? My first reaction to the actual line-up between them was a fearful 
joy. I thought with glee of the confusion in the office of the Daily 
Worker , where they had to get out a leader saying that the holy war 



The Iron Gates 345 

against Hitler they had been demanding so vociferously must now be 
regarded as an imperialist one, and at all costs prevented from happening. 
Of the distress in Cross Street, Bouverie Street and Long Acre, that 
there should now be so mighty a hole in the common front against 
Fascism they had been advocating. Of the sadness in Printing House 
Square that, after all, Stalin was not going to come forward as civilisa- 
tion’s resolute defender, and take the Houses of Parliament, the Bank of 
England, Black Rod, and for that matter The Times itself, all under his 
wing. Of the desolation in Great Turnstile; of the Left Book Club 
volumes in their yellow dust-jackets being silently removed from 
windows in Henrietta Street, and, perhaps, even the Dean of Canter- 
bury having a momentary doubt as to whether Stalin really would go 
on building the Kingdom of Christ now that he had aligned himself 
with Hitler. For a minute, in my delight, I thought that apologists for 
the Soviet regime among the Western intelligentsia were confounded for 
ever; and then, of course, I realised - not so. In a little while, they would 
recover their breath at the Daily Worker, in Cross Street, Bouverie 
Street and Long Acre, be tapping away again as confidently as ever; joy 
returning to Great Turnstile, the Dean recovering his nerve, and the 
Henrietta Street windows filling again. Like alcoholics after taking the 
cure -never another drop; well, just a taste perhaps, and then, before 
you could say knife, back on the meths. Meanwhile, there was the war. 



7 Grinning Honour 



Soft I Who are you? Sir Walter Blunt:- there’s honour for you! . . . 
I like not such grinning honour as Sir Walter hath: give me life; 
which I can save, so; if not, honour came unlook’d for, and there’s 
an end. - Falstaff 



Even wars, then, are waged with peace as their object, even when 
they are waged by those who are concerned to exercise their warlike 
prowess, either in command or in the actual fighting. Hence it is an 
established fact that peace is the desired end of war. For every man is 
in quest of peace even in waging war, whereas no one is in quest of 
war when making peace. In fact, even when men wish a present state 
of peace to be disturbed they do so not because they hate peace, but 
because they desire the present peace to be exchanged for one that suits 
their wishes. Thus their desire is not that there should not be peace 
but that it should be the kind of peace they wish for. 

- Augustine’s City of God 



AS NEARLY always happens with long-awaited excitements, war, 
when at last it came, proved an anticlimax. After all the apocalyptic 
warnings delivered on so many solemn occasions from so many solemn 
throats, we confidently expected the sky to darken, Big Ben to be silenced, 
and destruction to fall about us with sheets of flame and mighty roarings 
as of a tempest. It was all to come, but not yet. What happened immedi- 
ately was that, on a bright September Sunday morning, an old man’s 
quavering, angry voice was heard on the radio, rising to shrill heights as 
he told us that we were at war fighting against all the evil things in the 
world and for all the good ones. Through the open window we saw our 
stand-in parson, the Rev. Browell, making his way along the road with 



Griming Honour 347 

great deliberation, and repeating at intervals, to no one in particular: 
‘We’re in God’s hands, we’re in God’s hands.’ He had a bustling, 
purposeful air about him, like a teacher marshalling his charges. Alas, it 
seemed as though we were in Neville Chamberlain’s hands rather than 
in God’s, or even the Rev. Browell’s. In my mind’s eye I saw Chamber- 
lain at the microphone, in black cutaway coat, with winged collar, and 
adam’s apple throbbing convulsively above it; as forlorn at this moment 
of defeat as he had been vainglorious at his corresponding moment of 
triumph, waving in the air his piece of paper signed by Hitler, and 
prattling of peace with honour. 

As Chamberlain’s tremulous words died away, the sirens sounded, 
and the silver barrage balloons rose into the clear sky, riding on the 
wings of this most unmelodious melody which was to be our theme 
song for some years to come. I saw Kitty look round with her special 
vigilant air to take stock of where the children were and what they were 
at. I myself tried, without much conviction, to summon up a suitable 
expression of gravitas ; as of a man resolved to do his duty come what 
might. As I have invariably found on occasions of public drama, I felt 
nothing more than a sense of suppressed excitement; I was curious about 
what was going to happen rather than appalled. Some deficiency in my 
mental make-up or metabolism prevents me from reacting otherwise; 
but for that very reason I feel bound to look pretematurally solemn, and 
strike an attitude of overwhelming concern. Just as, at a funeral, the 
mourners who care least about the deceased put on an outward appear- 
ance of being the most stricken. 

We had all been talking about war for, literally, years past It would 
be the end of civilisation - this without considering whether any civilis- 
ation still existed to be ended. Our cities would be razed to the ground 
in the twinkling of an eye; the bombers must always get through, there 
being no defence against aerial bombardment. Many thus held forth 
with great vigour and authority at dinner tables, in clubs and railway 
carriages; as did leading articles, sermons in St Martin’s-in-the-Fields 
and other enlightened pulpits, after-dinner speeches at gatherings like 
the League of Nations Union and the Peace Pledge Union; wherever 
two or more were gathered together who felt they had the true interests 
of mankind at heart. Books appeared interminably on the subject, with 
lurid blurbs - usually in yellow dust-jackets; films were made about it, 
garden fetes dedicated to it, tiny tots lisped out rhymes about it. All 
agreed that another war was unthinkable, unspeakable, inconceivable, 
and must at all costs be averted; coming forward in large numbers to 



348 The Infernal Grove 

vote against it in a Peace Ballot - resolved, and carried unanimously: 
That we will not countenance another war. 

Well, now this other war had come. The sirens had sounded, the 
barrage balloons had risen, the hospitals had been cleared for the hosts of 
expected casualties, and the cardboard coffins manufactured in bulk in 
view of the anticipated shortage of wooden ones. We awaited the apoca- 
lypse, and nothing happened; like children shutting our eyes after a 
lightning flash in the expectation of a big bang to follow, and then 
cautiously opening them again to find everything precisely as it had been 
before. It was oddly exasperating. Not just to retired colonels irritably 
mowing their lawns in the Home Counties, and dreaming of adding to 
their campaign medals; of taking out their Sam Brownes once more, 
polishing them up and adjusting them to their enlarged girths. Not 
just to men of my generation who had missed out on the 1914-18 war, 
and saw a chance of getting into this one by the skin of their teeth; 
catching up on all the excitement, danger and fun that had eluded them 
on the previous occasion - the war books they hadn’t written, the girls 
they hadn’t slept with on some hilariously desperate forty-eight hours’ 
leave from the trenches, the shell-shock they hadn’t had, the decora- 
tions for valour they hadn’t received and then contemptuously returned 
to show how they despised decorations and those who awarded them. 
Even the conscientious objectors had been looking forward eagerly to 
conscientiously objecting. Now it looked as though this so often pre- 
dicted war to end all peace was going to prove as illusory as the peace to 
end all war. 

On the Monday following the declaration of war I announced to 
Kitty that I was off to join the army. She did not, as I half expected she 
would, reproach me, but just accepted what was, given my age, cir- 
cumstances and family responsibilities, an intrinsically imprudent, 
foolish and egotistic thing to do. The inducement was certainly not an 
access of patriotism; neither then, nor at any time subsequently, did I 
suppose that the war, however it turned out, could have other than ruinous 
consequences for all concerned, especially for England. The alternative 
to Hitler, as I well knew, was Stalin; and it was impossible to damage 
Hitler without helping Stalin, or vice-versa. So all the evil things which, 
according to Chamberlain, we were to fight against - dictatorship, bad 
faith, intolerance, persecution of the weak etc., etc. - must, whatever 
happened, get a boost. As, indeed, it has turned out. 

The nearest recruiting office was at Maidstone, and when I got there I 
found quite a queue had already formed, consisting mostly of aspiring 



Grinning Honour 349 

combatants, line myself, well on the way to middle-age. Conscription was 
already in force, so there was no occasion for the real cannon-fodder - 
between eighteen and twenty-one - to come along. The scene was very 
different from the beginning of the 1914-18 war, with all its hysteria, 
frantic outbursts of patriotism and distribution of white feathers. 
Everything was noticeably subdued; more in the style of a Labour 
Exchange in a period of economic depression than of a recruiting office 
at the beginning of a war. No A. E. Housman-esque bucolic sergeant 
with ribbons in his cap, all agog to inveigle a likely lad into accepting the 
King’s Shilling. No likely lads, for that matter, or silver shillings; no 
band playing or flags flying. Just the eternal questionnaire - name, age, 
address, married or single, educational qualifications, religion, any 
record of VD, epilepsy or other disability? These the ice-floes, from one 
to the other of which we must nowadays jump; whether in seeking 
eniployment, getting married, exercising the franchise, or going to war. 

There was only one man in the queue who seemed outwardly excited. 
He was, I should say, in his fifties; with snow-white hair, a battered 
rubicund face and broken teeth. Suddenly he began to gesticulate, and 
shout that he wanted to do something with his life. He may well have 
been drunk, but anyway was quite beside himself, to the point that a 
policeman who was keeping an eye on the queue led him gently away, 
still gesticulating and shouting. Did he, I wonder, manage to do some- 
thing with his life as a result of participating in the war? Or, for that 
matter, with his death? I rather doubt it; this particular war offering 
few possibilities of the kind in either case. The rest of us kept our thoughts 
to ourselves; remaining silent, if not morose, as we moved slowly 
forward with the queue. When my turn came, I filled in my form, and 
learnt that only specialists were being called up for the moment, and 
that, anyway, journalists of my age-group were classified as in a reserved 
occupation. So, wouldn’t I do better at my typewriter? 

I returned home feeling rather foolish, more particularly as I had 
taken a small suitcase with me of essential requirements with the idea 
that I might be sent straight off to a military depot. To relieve my feel- 
ings I wrote to Lord Lloyd, whom I vaguely knew, to ask if he would 
exert his influence to get me taken on as an Air Force pilot or rear-gunner; 
and when Beaverbrook and Brendan Bracken became Ministers, I 
likewise applied to them in the same sense. Needless to say, in each case 
I got only a polite brush-off. One or two middle-aged men disposing of 
more influence than I did - Sir Arnold Wilson, for instance - managed 
to get taken on as rear-gunners, and were duly killed; but there was 



350 The Infernal Grove 

no possible basis for my expecting such preferential treatment. I cannot 
pretend that it was heroism which prompted me in making these appeals; 
though possibly a desire to seem a hero - a very different thing - played 
its part. The armed forces, as I subsequently discovered, were over- 
flowing with aspiring 1914-18 war heroes -mute inglorious T. E. 
Lawrences, meticulously scruffy and insubordinate; Rupert Brookes 
with beautiful profiles, and poems scribbled down on army memo-pads 
with indelible pencils; Siegfried Sassoons ready at the drop of a hat to 
canter off the hunting field and into battle; clergymen who had become 
padres, damning God under their breath as they booked a double-room 
at the Regent Palace Hotel; hello, to all that I from up and 
coming Robert Graveses. 

The first days of the war were, for me, full of discontent and irrita- 
bility. Everything that was supposed to come to an end when hostilities 
began looked like going on for ever. I had to get off my review of five 
novels as usual, posting it at the very last moment in the same old way; 
my overdraft still stood, and the piles of copies of The Times in my 
study reminded me that there was still some way to go yet if I was to 
finish my survey of the Thirties by the end of the year. The siren- 
trumpet had sounded, but the walls of Jericho, shaky as they were, 
refused to fall down. Moreover, such outward manifestations of war 
as there were had a decided air of dijd vu\ with the old sets, the old 
lines, and the old cast, most of whom were decidedly shaky and creaky 
by this time, but could still manage to get through their parts - just. So 
tatty a show, to be kept going, required a truly seasoned and outstand- 
ing impresario. Before long, one would be coming along, equipped with 
funny hats, siren suit, cigar, and, above all, rhetoric to fill the empty 
spaces of our hopes and resolution with portentous words - a blended 
brew of Macaulay, Gibbon, and the Authorised Version of the Bible, 
which, like Horlicks, could be taken at bed time to ward off night 
starvation. 

About this time, I got a request from a publisher to undertake a new 
version of Ian Hay’s The First Hundred Thousand , published in 1915, 
about the British Expeditionary Force in France. He must have meant 
pounds, Kingsmill said when I told him. Thinking about it -the 
advance proposed was substantial - 1 could not bring myself to relish 
the project. It would inevitably mean dishing the war up as some sort of 
a crusade, whereas I saw it as an act of self-destructive desperation on 
the part of all concerned. Even the most resourceful columnists and 
leader-writers had run into grave difficulties in avoiding, as they clearly 



Grinning Honour 351 

felt they must, the semantics of the 1914-18 war. Thus, an article in the 
News Chronicle was headed: ‘Making the World Safe for Go-Aheads to 
Live In’. ‘Go-Aheads’ seemed a shabby synonym for ‘heroes’. How could 
I expect to do better? Turning over a few pages of Ian Hay’s book 
convinced me of the hopelessness of the task. The Last Hundred Thousand 
would be more in my style, I decided, and declined the offer. The only 
basis I could discover for my own zeal to participate in the war was the 
sort of consideration which induced the Russian anarchist, Bakunin, 
when he saw some men setting fire to a house, to leap out of his carriage 
and lend a hand, without bothering to find out who they were and what 
was their purpose. When, after the war, I was a member of the Garrick 
Club for some years, I used sometimes to see Ian Hay there; a tall, 
lantern-jawed, elusive-looking man. I never managed to summon up 
the courage to tell him that I had been chosen, but declined, to pick up 
in the second world war the torch he had carried in the first I felt it 
might upset him. 

My distress at having to go on reviewing novels was relieved when I 
received a note from the literary editor of the Daily Telegraph saying 
that, in the light of the war situation, it was unlikely that sufficient works 
of fiction would be forthcoming to support a weekly feature, and that in 
any case the space would be required for copy relating to the national 
emergency. My joy at this deliverance was very great Bunyan’s Pilgrim 
did not climb out of the Slough of Despond more eagerly than I did out 
of this fictional slough in which I had been immersed, resolved never 
to fall into anything of the kind again. It is one of the few resolutions 
I have approximately kept. 

By the same post as the letter telling me that my weekly column of 
novel reviews was no longer wanted, came another offering me a post 
in the newly established Ministry of Information. I felt bound to accept 
this, having now no regular income of any kind. It meant being in 
London during the week, and only coming home for week-ends. As 
things turned out, I was not to live with my family again, except for odd 
week-ends and periods of leave, till the end of the war; leaving Kitty to 
keep our home together, look afterthe children and see to their schooling 
in very difficult circumstances. I did this, not under compulsion, not 
from any genuine sense of duty, but just out of vanity and foolish bra- 
vado; ultimately, I suppose, because I wanted to get away on my own, 
and behave as I liked. Something that wars make permissible, practicable 
and even praiseworthy. 

The hurriedly improvised Ministry of Information had been set up 



3 5 2 The Infernal Grove 

in the new London University building in Bloomsbury, where there were 
still intimations of its academic function; scientific formulae scrawled 
on blackboards, the whiff of chemicals and dead dog-fish in the labora- 
tories, and even a tattered old gown hanging in one of the lavatories. 
When I presented myself, I found the place teeming with people, all 
moving about energetically and purposefully; like an airport. Some were 
in uniform, most carried brief-cases; dispatch-riders roared up to the 
entrance on their motor-cycles, and then, after a brief wait, roared 
away again, the only familiar sight being the commissionaires in blue, 
who spring up from an apparently inexhaustible supply whenever and 
wherever a new Ministry is instituted. 

The department I was attached to was responsible for producing, for 
use all over the world, feature articles calculated to raise enthusiasm for 
the Allied cause. Leader-writing on the Guardian , the counterfeit 
words with which I was required to juggle - like ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, 
‘self-determination’ - had died on me. 

Resurrecting them now into some sort of pallid existence for use as 
counters in a war that persistently refused to begin, was an uninspiring 
task. As it happens, under the auspices of the BBC, Orwell was similarly 
engaged, his special territory being India and South-East Asia. We 
often used to talk about this when I got to know him. From a studio deep 
under Oxford Street, he beamed at listeners in Cawnpore, Kuala Lumpur 
and Rangoon - assuming, of course, that there were any - Areopagitica y 
The Wasteland read by the author in person, and other gems of Western 
culture, with a view to enthusing them for the Allied cause. When I 
delicately suggested that this may well have failed to hit its target, the 
absurdity of the enterprise struck him anew, and he began to chuckle; 
a dry, rusty, growly sort of chuckle, deep in his throat, very character- 
istic of him and very endearing. 

Graham Greene, who had also joined the Ministry of Information 
wartime staff, as characteristically took a highly professional view of what 
was expected of us, coolly exploring the possibility of throwing stigmata 
and other miraculous occurrences into the battle for the mind in Latin 
America to sway it in our favour. In the way of duty, he also had access 
to a file of letters from successful writers like Hugh Walpole, Michael 
Arlen and Godfrey Winn offering their pens for King and Country. 
Dipping into this gave us much pleasure. He was staying near the Min- 
istry in a little mews flat where I spent an occasional evening with him, 
the invariable supper dish being sausages, then still available. Whatever 
his circumstances, he has this facility for seeming always to be in 



Grinning Honour 353 

lodgings, and living from hand to mouth. Spiritually, and even physic- 
ally, he is one of nature’s displaced persons. Soon after his house on 
Clapham Common had been totally demolished in the Blitz, I happened 
to run into him. There was no one in the house at the time, his family 
having moved into the country, and he gave an impression of being well 
content with its disappearance. Now, at last, he seemed to be saying, he 
was homeless, de facto as well as de jure . 

At the Ministry I was given a desk in a room for two, with, on the 
door, the word ‘Editorial’. No one was ever able to explain what, if 
anything, this signified. My stable-companion was a pale, staid figure 
named Palmer from the League of Nations Secretariat. We neither of us 
had much to do, but when I girded against this, Palmer gently rebuked 
me. Such, he said, had been his lot on the League Secretariat for years 
past. He had grown used to it, and saw no reason why I should not in 
time come to do likewise. It was a perfectly permissible and acceptable 
way of life. Palmer had, indeed, as I saw, developed in himself a sort of 
Buddhistic power of contemplation as he sat at his desk staring in front 
of him; expenditure of energy being reserved for things like getting 
stationery, paper-clips and other clerical impedimenta together, taking 
control of the opening and shutting of our window, and seeing that his 
blotter was changed from time to time, and supplies of ink replenished. 
What thoughts and aspirations were in his mind during these pro- 
tracted periods of contemplation I had no means of knowing, but he had, 

I gathered, a special interest in Eng. Lit., and had written a book or two 
in that field. He also collaborated with another League official, Hilary 
St George Saunders, in writing thrillers under a joint pseudonym. 

Sometimes he spoke of Saunders, whom I vaguely knew, and saw 
occasionally after the war when he had become librarian at the House of 
Commons; executing his responsibilities as provider and distributor of 
books to Hon. Members with great aplomb. Palmer clearly held Saunders 
in considerable awe as a man with sparkling gifts bom to shine in a 
world to which he, Palmer, could not aspire. Mixed with his veneration, 
I thought I detected a strain of envy, and perhaps resentment. The 
relationship between the two, yoked so strangely in the production of 
thrillers, fascinated me, and I tried to explore it in a novel of my own 
(Affairs of the Heart), in which two similarly dissimilar collaborators 
devise a plot whose only possible outcome is for one of them to murder 
the other, which he duly does, the single clue being the manuscript of 
the last novel they were working on together. The result, alas, was 
unsatisfactory, though published, and, for some inscrutable reason, 



354 The Infernal Grove 

translated into Italian and Mexican. I came across the Italian edition — 
Affart di Cuore — once in a Milan bookshop, standing, blameless, on a 
shelf of porn ; on the cover of the Mexican edition — Deseo Y Muerte — I 
am described as ‘ el genio del Humor Negro\ an undeserved compliment. 

The days passed at the Ministry of Information very much as they 
had at the International Labour Office. There were even tea trolleys 
and biscuits, but not stamped MOI as the others had been BIT. 
R. H. S. Crossman was in an adjoining office, and we spent much time 
talking together. It was then that for the first time I became acquainted 
with one of the most versatile, engaging, and irresponsible of contemp- 
orary minds. My impressions at the time were only confirmed when, 
years later, we were together, along with Peter Thomeycroft, on a weekly 
television programme which involved endless talk on and off the screen. 
Whatever position Crossman took up was defended with vigour and 
panache, though he was quite likely, on another occasion, to demolish it 
with equal vigour and panache. He left the Ministry of Information at 
about the same time as I did, moving over to a secret organisation where 
he found himself more sympathetically engaged in devising and dis- 
seminating Black Propaganda to Germany, using for the purpose admit- 
ted lies instead of, as at the Ministry, disguised ones. His great ambition 
in life, he told me once, had been to become editor of the New Statesman 
or Foreign Secretary; the first of these objectives he, somewhat belatedly, 
achieved, but his performance at it suggests that it is just as well for all 
of us that the other has eluded him. 

Apart from the barrage balloons, which had now become part of the 
London skyline, and posters exhorting us, among other things, to Save 
for the Brave, the only evident sign of the war was the black-out. As 
the winter came on, by the afternoon when it was time to leave the 
Ministry and my communings with Palmer and Crossman, darkness had 
fallen over London, unrelieved by street lamps. Buses and cars crept 
silently along with only two tiny points of light to mark their extremities; 
the people in the streets no more than passing shadows, everything 
hushed and subdued, like Moscow when the snow had fallen. I preferred 
to grope my way on foot through the black-out to Chelsea, where I was 
staying in a house in Bramerton Street, rather than trying to get onto 
public transport. From Gower Street via St Martin's Lane, to Trafalgar 
Square, up the Mall by Buckingham Palace, past the tall houses in 
Eaton Square, and on to Sloane Square, King’s Road, and Chelsea 
Town Hall -these were my land-marks, but I often lost my way, 
suddenly finding myself by the Embankment, and once almost walking 



Grinning Honour 355 

into the Albert Hall. Muffled in an overcoat, umbrella up when it was 
raining, sometimes choking over yellow fog, I had a wonderful sense of 
being cut off and alone in a lost world. Along King's Road the prostitutes 
signalled with torches, little quick flashes indicating their presence; 
rather sweetly, as I thought. Thus groping my way about blacked-out 
London, a phrase took shape in my mind : Lost in the darkness of change. 
I said it over and over to myself, like some incantation momentarily 
crystallising our human condition. 

The house in Bramerton Street had been kindly lent me by Gerald 
Reitlinger, who had managed to get into an anti-aircraft battery manned 
almost entirely by Twenties figures like himself. It must have been one 
of the most bizarre British Army units ever to be mustered, whose 
personnel were trapanned, not, like the early East India Company’s 
troops, in the back streets and stews of Bristol and Liverpool, but in 
the Cafe Royal, the Gargoyle Club, the Cave of Harmony and the 
Fitzroy Tavern. In his private’s uniform, especially fitted in Savile 
Row, Gerald at last realised his lifelong dream of merging himself in 
the English social scene, instead of, like Satan, going solitarily to and fro 
in the world and up and down in it. Never can there have been so ardent 
and battle-worthy a recruit. If Hitler had only struck then and there, 
without a doubt his euphoria would have carried him into performing 
deeds of valour deserving of the highest praise and decorations. Alas, 
during the period of the phoney war, his morale gradually subsided, and 
he finished up going round lecturing to the troops, a civilian again. 
When, once, I asked him what he lectured about, he was evasive, and 
I was never fortunate enough to come across anyone who had heard 
him. His Bramerton Street establishment was littered with Twenties 
bric-i-brac; his easel stood in its place with a half-finished Impression- 
istic canvas still on it, the Week-End Book was placed by the bedside, 
and, over supper, his housekeeper, Mrs Gray, provided anecdotes of 
glittering figures like Constant Lambert, and even Augustus John, who 
had at different times visited the house. Outside, the darkness of change, 
inside the past; but where was the present? It eluded me then, and still 
does. Perhaps there is no such thing; an imaginary point whe